On the 50th anniversary of Title IX, how the gym community can help uphold the spirit and the letter of the law — Other gym news — Thoughts from Ari Saperstein
The IX: Gymnastics Saturday with Lela Moore, June 25, 2022
Addie Parker beautifully covered a lot of territory surrounding Title IX’s birthday on Golf Thursday, so I don’t want to get repetitive. Go read her essay as well, then come back to me. I’ll wait.
But I don’t think a women’s sports newsletter – especially one that has IX right in the name! – can say too much about Title IX, so here I go.
Addie touched on the wording of the law and why the use of the word “person” is significant in it.
Title IX gets tossed around a lot lately as a justification for anti-trans legislation in at least a dozen states and rules imposed by the NCAA and the International Olympic Committee that purport to say who gets to play women’s sports. (This despite the federal government’s assurance last year that Title IX protections extend to transgender people. The Biden administration yesterday introduced new amendments to Title IX intended to codify LGBTQ+ protection in the law as well as protection for sexual assault survivors – something all gymnastics fans should appreciate.) Both the NCAA and the IOC, in punting to individual sports to determine rules for transgender athlete participation, have opened the door to more restrictive policies like FINA, the governing body of swimming, passed on June 19 that says athletes who have gone through male puberty cannot compete on in women’s events. Period. Ever.
Title IX does not legislate womanhood. It was created to give women more educational opportunities, but it protects all persons from sex discrimination in educational settings that receive federal funds. That is its purpose. It is a civil rights law.
So whether you identify as a woman, as a man, or as nonbinary, your civil rights are protected under Title IX if your school – high school or college, public or private – receives federal funding. That’s all public school systems, both K-12 and university, and private secondary schools, colleges, and universities that receive federal funds in the form of grants, work-study programs, free lunch programs, and other types of assistance.
How does this factor into gymnastics? Gymnastics is the rare sport in which the women’s side of things is more popular than the men’s. Women’s gymnastics is the most-watched sport in the Summer Olympics.
The 2022 NCAA women’s gymnastics championships was moved from one time slot on ABC to another to accommodate the NHL, then promptly beat the hockey game in both viewership and ratings.
Compared to sports like soccer or basketball, where pro women fight to receive salaries equivalent to MLS or NBA players, or to some women’s college sports programs like rowing or beach volleyball, tacked on to athletic departments to comply with Title IX’s requirement that scholarship dollars be distributed equitably between men and women but that are accessible to few but the rich and white, women’s gymnastics occupies a fairly privileged spot in that it is rarely fighting to justify its existence to the greater public. Gymnasts have proven they can earn bank in NIL opportunities this year.
And while I’m not going to sit here and say that the sport is truly diverse, equitable, and inclusionary, neither is it lily-white and straight as an arrow, and gymnasts have worked hard to gain a voice and bring attention to DEI issues in the sport. Accessibility remains an issue, and top-level gymnastics remains incredibly expensive, but recreational classes are widely available at a variety of price points and facilities.
Women in gymnastics have power that others who identify as women in other sports lack. Let’s use it.
The gymnastics community should look at how the sport has grown since 1972, when Title IX was signed into law, and how it thrives today. Then we should take a deep breath and ask ourselves, how can we be the change we want to see over the next 50 years? How can we make it more accessible to all, regardless of race, socioeconomics, or gender identity? How can we ensure that gymnasts can reach their full potential in the sport without being subject to discrimination, harassment, and abuse? Currently, USA Gymnastics allows trans athletes to compete in the discipline that aligns with their gender identity. The FIG, gymnastics’ international governing body, has not released an official policy on trans athletes. Let’s use our voices to keep it that way.
Protecting civil rights should not mean narrowing the scope of women’s sports, or womanhood, as some would have us believe.
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Other gym news
Catalina Ponor got married!
Viktoria Komova and Aleksandra Schekoldina also said their I dos.
University of Alaska Anchorage saved its women’s gymnastics program by raising $888,000.
Five-star recruit Danielle Ferris commits to Florida.
Morgan Hurd wished her elite coach Slava Glazounov a Happy Father’s Day in an IG Story, and now I am dead.
Riley McCusker posted a training video taken at a crazy angle and we liked it.
British Gymnastics announced Team England’s WAG delegation for the Commonwealth Games: Ondine Achampong, Georgia-Mae Fenton, Claudia Fragapane, Alice Kinsella, and Kelly Simm.
Dominique Dawes gave a podcast interview to Lesley Visser where she speaks about her experience with coach Kelli Hill and the Karolyis in, shall we say, less than flattering words. We are so proud of Dominique for lending her voice to the ongoing conversation against abuse in the sport.
Japan leaves Ashikawa Urara off its women’s world’s team. Spencer of the Balance Beam Situation alleges drama-mongering.
Five at The IX: Ari Saperstein
Ari Saperstein (he/him), 29, is Ari is a producer at Pineapple Street Media and the host of the podcast Blind Landing. In its first season, Blind Landing looked into the vault controversy from the all-around competition at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, leading to more than a few new revelations about what happened. (No spoilers here, go listen!) Fun fact: One of Ari’s producers on that first season was Jessica Taylor Price, the OG of Gymnastics Saturday. A second, two-part series on safety in gymnastics followed. More recently, Ari interviewed queer figure skaters for his pod’s second season. In my ongoing quest to meet and befriend other gymnastics writers and podcasters, Ari has consistently been one of the kindest, friendliest, and most informative people to know and I was thrilled he wanted to join my roster of Pride interviews this month. This interview has been edited for clarity.
Your podcast Blind Landing recently did a deep dive into the history of queer athletes in ice skating, and you’ve done a series and several other episodes about gymnastics. Were you a fan of either sport before you got into podcasting, and how big a fan are you now?
AS: For a long time, I was a four-year fan –– loved the sports, but only followed them when the Olympics were happening. A couple of years ago, around the time I began working on Blind Landing, I started following gymnastics more closely and quickly got totally sucked in.
I think what is so fun about gymnastics once you get really familiar with the sport isn’t necessarily watching it, but thinking about it. To do thought experiments (“Who’d win if Khorkina and Suni Lee at their peak competed together?”) or kind of construct routines in your head (“Could someone do a double salto dismount right out of a release skill?”) is something that feels very distinct about the sport. The “What If” nature of a subjectively scored, ever evolving sport is what makes it so fun from the outside. That’s probably what drew me to telling the story of the Sydney vault controversy in our first season, but it’s kind of like the ultimate “what if” moment.
As for skating, I’ve definitely come to appreciate it but in a different respect: the second season of Blind Landing, all about figure skating, really looked at sociocultural barriers –– racism, homophobia –– that exist in the sport. So I came to get to know the people more than the skills because of the nature of our stories. Also, I co-reported the season with other journalists who more so played the role of experts when it came to skating.
When USA Gymnastics posted a photo of the pride flag on June 1, they got a lot of very angry/rude pushback from people saying to keep “politics” and sports separate. What would you say to those people (if you knew they would listen, of course)?
AS: What is more political than representing your country on the international stage? USA Gymnastics, as an organization, [is] inherently political, in that it’s an inherently nationalistic identity.
So I don’t think those commenters are really thinking about what they’re asking for. I think what they mean is that they want to see *their* political ideologies being reflected. I didn’t see the comments but it’s definitely interesting that these sports we’re talking about –– gymnastics & figure skating –– are comprised of both a politically diverse array of community members AND a number of queer people, especially queer men, as fans and/or staff. What we saw in our queer history series is that there is still a lot of work to be done in these spaces about understanding the LGBTQ+ community. Which I guess is evident by those social media comments and reactions.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion in gymnastics and skating often seems like it’s one step forward, a few steps back. What is something you would like to see from coaches, NCAA gym leadership, or elite leadership in either sport that would signal a real commitment to DEI?
AS: I think it starts with ensuring there’s support for athletes –– and I think that looks like creating as strong of a system and methodology as possible to make sure athletes’ voices and interests are heard.
Qualified athletes’ representatives within each organization; an anonymized system for reporting issues, overseen by an independent entity; access to sports psychologists and counselors… these kinds of measures feel like they need to be in place for attempts to diversify the sport to be successful.
Without support, without understanding, without advocacy, then whoever is the minority in a given situation is probably more likely to feel alienated, misunderstood, and mistreated.
What’s your favorite gymnastics skill to watch, and favorite apparatus to watch?
AS: OK, so I’m so excited to answer this question because I think this will be new to a lot of readers: a floor skill called the Deferr.
Officially, it’s described as a jump forward with 1/2 turn to double salto backwards –– but a more reductive way to describe it is like a reverse double Arabian … or like a double barani. It’s in the men’s code, but I haven’t found a video of the namesake gymnast actually doing it. I’ve seen someone do it on a trampoline into a pit and it’s so cool visually, but it’s only a D in the men’s code which is maybe why no one competes in it, but I wonder if we’ll ever see a great forward tumbler in WAG do it.
Favorite event to watch is probably vault. A high-level vault final is so fun to watch –– I love wondering what decisions people will make last minute. So many great moments of going big or going home –– Amanar debuting the Amanar, Hong Un Jong with the triple attempt in 2016, Igor Radivilov doing the triple front (wild), Yeo Seo-Jeong taking the bronze with the double-twisting front, Andrade whipping out an Amanar for gold. I think “unpredictability” gets applied to beam a lot, but in reference to the results; the unpredictability of choices by gymnasts, sometimes a split second decision in the moment on vault, is what I find so exciting.
What is your favorite color in the rainbow and why?
AS: Blue, and I don’t know why, but 99% of my clothing is either white or blue (I lived in Israel when I was a kid so maybe the flag colors really left a mark in my DNA).
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