The New York Times & Title IX

16 May 2013

Women and the Media: Final Research Report

Introduction

Since President Richard Millhouse Nixon signed into law Title IX of the Educational Amendments in June of 1972, the legislation drafted by Rep. Patsy Mink has been praised by some and lamented by others. Referred to simply as “Title IX,” the federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any education program or activity that receives federal funds. Often credited with the explosion of women’s increasing participation in sport, it has also simultaneously been blamed for the cutting of men’s sports programs.

It has narrowed the gender gap in youth sports participation from 1 girl to 12 boys to 1 girl for every 1.4 boys, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations (2011). But the American Sports Council – an organization that has led the charge in movements to reform Title IX – calls the landmark legislation an “instrument of inequality” and a “strict body count quota” (2005).

While the legislation never explicitly states the term “quota,” the first prong of the U.S. Department of Education’s compliance test mandates that intercollegiate-level participation opportunities for male and female students be “substantially proportionate” to undergraduate enrollment. However, an institution looking to demonstrate Title IX compliance is not required to show this standard of proportionality. It can also demonstrate Title IX compliance by showing a “history and continuing practice of program expansion for the underrepresented sex” or “fully and effectively accommodating the interests and abilities” of that sex. An institution only needs to show that it fulfills one of these options in the “three-prong test” to demonstrate Title IX compliance. Thus, the notion that Title IX requires the cutting or reducing of men’s teams is patently false (2006).

The Office of Civil Rights, the enforcement agency of Title IX, has clarified that “nothing in Title IX requires the cutting or reduction of teams in order to demonstrate compliance with Title IX” and that the practice, in fact, is “contrary to the spirit of Title IX” (Reynolds, 2006).

“We can’t blame a great law for the incompetence of athletic departments [that] slash and burn men’s sports,” USA Today sports columnist and the first president of the Association for Women in Sports Media, Christine Brennan said, during a Title IX panel sponsored by the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism at the University of Maryland.

Media coverage and rhetoric surrounding Title IX remains very much centered on athletic participation in terms of pitting women athletes’ gains via Title IX at the “expense” of men’s teams. This over-simplistic framework limits the growth of Title IX and neglects “other” stories that simply are not being told on a mass-level by instead favoring this tired 41-year-old discussion that does not move the conversation of gender equity in sports, academia or the work force. Limiting the scope of what constitutes a “Title IX issue” solely to athletic participation is insulting to the American public, providing a watered-down version of the truth, rather than a more nuanced approach which allows for expansive ways to think about Title IX and gender equity.

Research Question

How has Title IX of the Education Amendments been framed by The New York Times since the landmark legislation was passed?

Methods

Examining The New York Times, the largest local metropolitan U.S. newspaper with the third-most circulation, I conducted a content analysis of all the articles appearing on LexisNexis that reference “Title IX.” My decision to analyze The New York Times is not only for the manageable search results – a total of 176 articles, but also because it is widely considered the standard-bearer of news coverage. The general assumption is that, if any traditional news publication is going to provide a wider context in understanding the federal legislation that protects against sex discrimination, it will be the “Gray Lady.”

Each byline and directly-quoted source was tallied on the basis of sex. Each article’s tone toward Title IX was either designated as positive, negative or neutral after reading and analyzing the text. Articles that expressed both support and contempt or neither support nor contempt toward the legislation were assessed as neutral.

Statistics (numerical data) cited in the article were examined in regards to whether data supported the legislation calling for its need and/or its capacity to provide more opportunities, pointed to negative consequences and/or undermined any of the legislation’s positive impact. Articles that were not given positive or negative scores either showed statistics that both support and reject Title IX or did not provide statistics of relevance to the legislation.

All 176 articles were analyzed for sports participation/athletics references and/or recognized the legislation’s impact outside of sports, including health benefits (e.g. lower rates of obesity rates, depression, drug use and pregnancy), academic or educational benefits (e.g. higher test scores and high school graduation rates), labor force (e.g. greater labor force participation and executives attributing success to Title IX), as well as Title IX’s influence on women in coaching (more women head coaches train women’s teams than ever, but coach less than half of women’s teams) and/or athletic administration positions (severe gender disparities in athletic training, sports information and athletic directors, negative impact on likelihood of hiring a woman coach) and Title IX’s applicability for pregnant and parenting students denied equal opportunity or student-victims of gender-based harassment who are so seriously harmed that it interferes with their ability to learn (Rao, 2012). These articles were also marked if the text suggested the expansion and/or reformation of Title IX.

To further explore how prevalent the perpetuation of the myth that Title IX is to blame for the discontinuation of men’s sports programs, each article was marked if it referenced men’s sports teams being cut and, if so, if the article mentioned even the possibility that this claim might be a myth.

The content analysis was accomplished using numerical codes consistent and corresponding to each concept. Please see the hyperlinked Excel spreadsheet for more information as to the exact coding system used in this study.

Results

Men accounted for 90 bylines, while women accounted for 91 bylines. Twenty-three bylines were not listed. Men with solo bylines were two times more likely to write for the editorial desk than their female counterparts, while women with solo bylines were two times more likely to write for the national desk than their male counterparts. Women were also less likely to write pieces from the sports desk, according to the data in this study.

In regards to tone toward the legislation, 82 articles were considered neutral, 76 were deemed positive and only 18 were categorized as having a negative tone. Pieces from the sports desk were more than 4 times as likely to be negative than that from the editorial desk.

Statistical or numerical data found in the articles that only supported Title IX was found in 57 articles. Only eight articles contained numbers that just criticized or discouraged Title IX. Most (77 articles) did not contain relevant data. Thirty-four articles were considered neutral, either showing data that supported and reject Title IX or the data was objectively neutral.

Health benefits of physical activity were referenced in 17 articles. Academic benefits as a byproduct of women’s participation in sports were noted in 53 articles. The impact of sports as a correlate to success in the labor force was cited in 30 articles. Athletic participation was referenced in 140 articles. Title IX’s impact on women coaches was written about in 35 articles, while the impact on women as athletic administrators appeared in just eight articles. Title IX’s application in the pregnant/parenting student context was referenced in only three articles. Its applicability in the context of harassment was found in 15 articles.

Fifty articles referenced only reform, while 33 referenced only expansion. Twenty-four referenced both reformation and expansion of Title IX. And 69 did not mention reforming or expanding the legislation.

Ninety-seven articles did not discuss cutting men’s sports as a byproduct of Title IX. While 79 articles mentioned the discontinuation of men’s sports programs, 48 articles (60 percent) indicated that the claim that “Title IX is to blame for men’s sports being cut” might be a myth. Men with solo bylines were more likely than women with solo bylines to bring up the discontinuation of men’s sports teams, but were more also more likely to provide information suggesting this could be a myth. Women with solo bylines were much more likely not to mention cutting men’s sports in the context of Title IX than their male counterparts.

Analysis

With only 18 articles having a strictly negative tone and just eight articles containing only numerical data that represented a sense of discontent with Title IX, it is clear that most New York Times journalists – and perhaps even their sources – overwhelmingly acknowledge the benefits brought on by Title IX. Seven of the eight articles using statistics that portrayed Title IX in a negative light were written be men. The negative statistics sighted were overwhelming about the loss of “non-revenue producing sports” like men’s wrestling.

In analyzing solo bylines, I also found that women were 12 percent more likely to frame their pieces using a neutral tone, whereas men were 3 percent more likely than women to frame their pieces in a negative tone and 9 percent more likely to frame pieces in a positive tone.  Women with solo bylines were much more likely to quote women than their male counterparts. Men with solo bylines had quoted 121 men and 117 women as sources, while women with solo bylines quoted 115 men and 151 women.

The equal byline distribution might be an indication of greater gender parity in newsrooms or it could be a product of the story given the heightened visibility of what equal opportunity means. Still, it is important to note that, in this study, women were more likely than men to share a byline.

More interesting to note, the legislation that was initially intended to equalize opportunities inside the classroom with roots back to University of Maryland lecturer Bernice Sandler is referenced for its academic benefits less than half the time than its impact on sports participation.

New York Times readers are much more likely to read about the impact of Title IX in coaching than athletic administration, which could be a potential barrier for women looking to break the glass ceiling in administrative roles as sports information directors and athletic directors.

Only 18 articles referenced pregnant/parenting students or sexual harassment. This might be the reason why many are unaware of how Title IX applies in these contexts.

More articles did not mention cuts to men’s sports than articles that did. Most of the articles that mentioned these practices acknowledged that Title IX might not be to blame. Still, the 60-40 split is concerning given the reality that neither Title IX nor the OCR has ever mandated that schools cut men’s sports programs.

My general analysis of the reform-expansion results is that almost two times as many articles (read: people) seem to be willing to reform Title IX than expand it, despite the overwhelmingly positive tone of the articles featured in the data set. Both women and men with solo bylines were more likely to reference reform than expansion. However, women with solo bylines were more likely to reference expansion than their male counterparts and men with solo bylines were more likely to reference reform than their female counterparts. These women were three times as more likely to refer to both expansion and reformation than their male counterparts.

Discussion

As America’s preeminent news source, The New York Times has the capacity to shape public opinion in profound and significant ways. This research underscores how seriously journalists should consider framing the issues they engage with and write about. Casting an issue in a particular light affects how the public perceives corresponding legislation and the role of public opinion in a thriving democracy.

In 2010, Vice President Joe Biden advocated to expand and strengthen Title IX, referring to it as a “no-brainer.” Sportswriter Dave Zirin has only one critique of Title IX: “We view it too much like a finish line, like something that was passed, instead of something that, not only has to constantly be fought for, but something that has to constantly be enforced” (University of Maryland, 2012). But with mass media publications continually framing the discussion in a manner that perpetuates inaccuracies and fails to provide a wider context as to the scope of the law, its myths continue to persist more than 40 years after the law was enacted.

With 40 percent of articles discussing men’s sports teams being cut essentially blaming Title IX for these cuts –without even outlining the other possibly ways to prove compliance, it is no wonder that Title IX continues to be called a “controversial” piece of legislation, which almost two times as many articles (read: people) seem to be willing to reform than expand. This study demonstrates that the onerous falls on women and men journalists in newsrooms across the country to frame Title IX in a way that provides greater context – to dispel the persistent myths that have limited the framework for how we think about a piece of legislation that has revolutionized American society.

 

References

American Sports Council. Karen Owoc Media, 2005. Web. 15 May 2013.

Biden, Joe. The White House. Office of the Vice President, 2010. Web. 15 May 2013.

National Federation of State High School Associations. NimbleUser,2011. Web. 15 May 2013.

Rao, Devi. “Ask the Experts: Pregnancy-Based Harassment in Schools.” Youtube.com      NWLCmedia,2012. Video. 15 May 2013.

Reynolds, Gerald.  ED.gov. U.S. Department of Education. 2006. Web. 15 May 2013.

University of Maryland, College Park. Title IX panel. Shirley Povich Center for Sports      Journalism. Fall 2012.

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