Playing to Empty Stands.

Above, a textbook example of the structural and cultural barriers that prevent so many inner-city girls from participating in team sports.

In the suburbs, girls’ participation in sports is so commonplace that in many communities, the conversation has shifted from concerns over equal access to worries that some girls are playing too much. But the revolution in girls’ sports has largely bypassed the nation’s cities, where public school districts short on money often view sports as a luxury rather than an entitlement.

Coaches and organizers of youth sports in cities say that while many immigrant and lower-income parents see the benefit of sports for sons, they often lean on daughters to fill needs in their own hectic lives, like tending to siblings or cleaning the house. …

In the suburbs, girls play sports at rates roughly equal to boys. A 2007 survey by Harris Interactive of more than 2,000 schoolchildren nationwide showed that 54 percent of boys and 50 percent of girls in the suburbs described themselves as “moderately involved” athletes.

Urban areas revealed a much greater discrepancy. Only 36 percent of city girls in the survey described themselves as moderately involved athletes, compared with 56 percent of city boys.

Girls in cities from Los Angeles to New York “are the left-behinds of the youth sport movement in the United States,” said Don Sabo, a professor of health policy at D’Youville College in Buffalo, who conducted the study, which was commissioned by the Women’s Sports Foundation, a private advocacy group.

There’s a lot of gender policing at play here — “basketball is for dykes” — as well as other less-discussed but significant considerations, like hair maintenance. Getting braids put in, for example is time-consuming, labor intensive and not cheap; there’d be a real disincentive to sweat it out. And so on.

10 thoughts on “Playing to Empty Stands.

  1. Grump June 16, 2009 at 5:32 pm Reply

    What about the “raising/loving” issue. is it possible that families in the urban areas see sports as a luxury where with the amount of female headed households, allow the sons to play sports while requring the daughters to do other things like babysit or homework?

  2. Jeremy June 16, 2009 at 6:00 pm Reply

    I’m going to add some kinks to this issue:

    A student in my department is doing her dissertation on Boston’s METCO program, a busing program that sends kids from Roxbury to overwhelmingly white and affluent suburban schools.

    She’s interviewed about 40 of these kids so far, and most of their peers. What she finds is that the black, bused boys are consistently rated and referred to as “cool, funny and athletic,” whereas the black, bused girls have no real pattern of identification. She’s finding that the boys therefore have ready-made cultural scripts to play into, making their transition into this foreign environment much easier. The girls are having a helluva time making friends, and are really discriminated against by their white peers. Ironically, however, this is making the boys have a harder time do well scholastically, because they are buying into the stereotype of the dumb athletic black kid, whereas the girls seem to be focusing more on their studies as a result.

    So, obviously sports and other extracurriculars are super important, both for a cultural sense of teamwork etc as well as individual health and self-affirmation. But when you start getting into interracial teams and mixed race schools, things get even more complicated.

    Slightly off-topic, but related nonetheless.

    • G.D. June 17, 2009 at 2:50 pm Reply

      Right. There’s obviously a social template that young black males can follow that young black girls cannot. but i wonder how much of the scholastic achievement thing is a suburban phenomenenon: black girls outpace black boys academically in general.


  3. KiaJD June 16, 2009 at 9:52 pm Reply

    Back in my high school, I experienced something similar to what was expressed in the video and above. We didn’t really have sports presented to us as an option at a young age whereas I see suburban kids playing soccer and baseball when they’re 7 years old. A lot of athletic development for youth seemed like something you had to pay for or you had to take the time to teach your kids yourself. My family wasn’t doing that.

    When I did get into sports, it was kind of because a friend wanted to do it and I went along. I happened to make the soccer team having no previous interest in the sport at all. Doing that kind of got me interested in other sports so I did volleyball and was a cheerleader but I didn’t do any of that stuff until high school. I always thought I had the potential to be really good at some sport but never had the chance to find out.

    I’d also like to mention that in my school, certain sports were either unavailable or considered “white people sports” so we didn’t look at them too seriously. We didn’t have wrestling, lacrosse, or field hockey. Sports like tennis, golf, swimming and crew were mostly populated by white kids who had exposure to those things way before we did.

  4. ladyfresh June 17, 2009 at 9:32 am Reply

    For me i never looked for sports even though my mother enrolled me in martial arts (for defense got my ass handed to me once at age 8). Oddly enough I’m pretty good at them. I had to think hard about this because my father tried to encourage sports with me but in catholic school the sports seems aimed at boys and high school i completely missed the boat. I swore there were no sports and thinking back this was because on TV (yes folks TV) school that were big on sports had these huge fields (track, football etc) and my school had a cement chain link fence razor wire enclosed area…sports didn’t seem fathomable. I find out years later that there were plenty of sports (me: for girls though??) and yes for girls. I vaguely remember team jackets but on basketball players, this didn’t seem to include me, i simply wasn’t the cheer leading type. my mental association for sports included me playing, not watching like my older cousins (and an aunt) who played softball, tennis, track, baseball…but they did this down south…my only cousin in New York (a boy) went to private school. The connection just never occurred to me, oddly enough i find myself making up for lost time by getting involved in company sports now.

  5. glory June 17, 2009 at 7:37 pm Reply

    there were no girls sports at my schools until i was in my private, suburban, predominantly white high school. unless you count cheerleading at my catholic middle school. so there was no option where i went. the only athletic things my friends and i did before we were 12 were schoolyard games like freezetag and dodgeball… and of course, double dutch.

    we did have little league in the neighborhood though, for 11-yr-olds and up. like KiaJD, i went b/c my girlfriends went so i wanted to play too. played for a couple summers – none of us knew what we were doing, but it was fun. we all quit before long, though. by freshman year of high school though, i couldn’t compete with the white girls who’d been playing since they were little out in the suburbs. one black girl at my high school played sports – softball and soccer. i kept wondering how she got into a “white kid’s game” like soccer. i wanted to try track, but they made the sprinters do cross country in daily practice. “black girls weren’t cross country runners,” so far as i knew. i wasn’t about to do all that running with the white girls, either. basketball was “for boys.” volleyball was “for white girls.” so there it was.

    if we’d had a step team or a double dutch squad, it woulda been on.

  6. LaJane Galt June 25, 2009 at 12:18 pm Reply

    Another wrinkle.

    I grew up as a minority in an area with the largest youth Soccer league in the country (CASL!) that was filled w/ girls. Girls played all sorts of sports. The really good b-ball players played on their brother’s team.

    The reason why these girls played sports *drumroll* is because DAD signed them up. My DAD signed me (& lil sis) up for sports. My best friend’s DAD signed her up for soccer. DADS coached the teams. DAD taught me how to swing a bat. DAD set up the badminton net. Moms were involved, but some – like mine- had a stereotypical opinion of female jocks (e.g., Juliet Stevenson from Bend it Like Beckham)..but she could* come to my games. Every single black chick I knew played a sport. Most of had permed hair. ALL OF US had DADS.

    When DAD is on his j-o-b kids have more opportunity to be kids.

    *I’m not discounting facilities, someone to take you to practice, buy equipment…merely to illustrate the lack of a male presence affects girls in many ways other than sexuality (though sports do keep you focused).

    • G.D. June 25, 2009 at 12:30 pm Reply

      dads, specifically, or two-parent homes? i could see dads being the sports lovers in the homes and passing that along to their kids.

      • ladyfresh June 25, 2009 at 1:15 pm Reply

        i’d say either

        for me it would have taken a more proactive dad

        he wasnt in the home and talked alot of jazz but did very little

        • G.D. June 25, 2009 at 1:19 pm Reply

          a dad, specifically?

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