STATE COLLEGE I couldn”t help feeling filthy, feeling like an ambulance chaser as I sat and watched the men”s gymnastics Big Ten Championships with a tearful Tony Golden, the father of Michigan State gymnast Brad Golden.
It was the final night of the event, and the Golden family was having a sensational bittersweet moment.
Sweet because Brad had just captured a conference championship in the floor exercises. Bitter because he”s only a sophomore, but he is rounding out his final year as a varsity athlete.
Michigan State men”s gymnastics is the latest casualty courtesy of Title IX it will cease to exist after the national championships in less than two weeks.
So this family the Goldens was experiencing an abrupt but touching culmination to Brad”s 13-year gymnastics career, and I was at their side observing and taking notes.
And I don”t have a problem writing human interest stories. What I didn”t like was knowing that I had ignored the plight of the Michigan State program until a good piece presented itself.
“Everybody hears about it and shakes their head, but it usually goes no further than that,” said Jeff Robinson, a gymnastics enthusiast who coached Brad pre-college. That pretty much summed up my reaction.
So now it”s difficult for me to hop aboard my soap box, and preach the evils of the way Title IX is being applied.
Nevertheless, that”s exactly what I”m about to do. Men”s gymnastics is getting wrongly burned, and it needs as many public advocates as possible to avoid complete obliteration.
While Title IX has been the greatest thing to ever happen to women”s sports, current interpretations of the law are killing many non-revenue men”s sports. Men”s gymnastics, which will be down to 24 Division I programs after the Michigan State team dissipates, is probably being hit the hardest.
Everyone agrees that Title IX has done unbelievable, necessary things for collegiate women”s sports, and no one wants to see the inroads reversed.
But the intention of the law is to create more opportunities for women, not to subtract opportunities from male athletes.
The problem is that women”s sports have to receive proportional participation and funds to the gender numbers of the student population to comply with the law. When a school doesn”t comply, an athletic director”s choices are to increase the women”s numbers and funding, or to cut male programs.
The latter is generally considered the easy way out.
The Michigan State AD, Clarence Underwood, chose the easy way out, thus, Brad Golden and his teammates are up the proverbial creek.
Michigan had a similar situation in 1995 it was even announced that the gymnastics program would be dropped. But under Athletic Director Joe Roberson, the decision was reversed in 1996. Michigan gymnastics coach Kurt Golder said that Roberson “mandated” that Michigan”s women”s teams increase their participation numbers while men”s team slightly lowered theirs.
According to Golder, Michigan State tried to do the same thing, but its leadership didn”t enforce the changes, and now the program is on the eve of being defunct.
Michigan is safe safe as long as there are other teams to compete against, I suppose.
Men”s gymnastics is an easy target because it doesn”t make a university money, and it doesn”t have the support base that a sport like wrestling has. Wrestling is also being hit hard, but it will survive because of its numerous and zealous fans. Most of the websites mobilizing citizens against Title IX are wrestling-based.
Because gymnastics takes such an unbelievable amount of strength, skill and commitment, most kids never get exposure to the sport. Therefore the fan base consists almost solely of people who excel or excelled at gymnastics a small group.
So it may be up to you, me and other men”s gymnastics outsiders to save the sport on the college level.
I can”t believe anyone, even those who feel that Title IX hasn”t done enough to create gender equality, would want Golden and his teammates to turn in their uniforms.
The injustices are obvious, the American population just has to become aware of the situation and willing to go to bat for a good cause, even without vested personal interest.
I know I am going to write to my congressman and let them know that this situation must be rectified. After sharing that moment with the Goldens, after writing this column, I”d be quite a hypocrite to do otherwise.
Dan Williams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.