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The Most Powerful Woman In Sports
Sarah Ballard
September 29, 1986
Since Title IX and the Bobby Riggs match, women have taken a major place on the playing fields. But who wields real clout? No one
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September 29, 1986

The Most Powerful Woman In Sports

Since Title IX and the Bobby Riggs match, women have taken a major place on the playing fields. But who wields real clout? No one

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•In 1984, when she was named athletic director at San Diego State University, Mary Alice Hill, 46, became the first woman to head the athletic department of a Division I school. On that heady occasion Hill said she expected very soon to see other women directing men's sports. A year later Hill was out of a job and suing San Diego State for reinstatement.

•From 1971 to 1985, under three International Olympic Committee presidents, Monique Berlioux, as director, wielded more power over a broader spectrum of sports than any woman ever has. But after Juan Antonio Samaranch of Spain was elected president of the IOC in 1980, Berlioux found herself under increasing pressure and was eventually forced out. Today, at 60, she is an adviser to the committee preparing the Paris bid for the 1992 Olympics.

•For three years Donna de Varona had a job that was unique in television sports. She was an on-the-air commentator for ABC while at the same time serving as assistant to Roone Arledge, president of ABC Sports. This year, when Capital Cities Communications, ABC's new owner, sent its management team in to "restructure" the network's sports department, de Varona, 39, was restructured out of the executive half of her job.

•In 1972, 90% of the coaches and administrators in women's college sports were women. Ten years later the National Collegiate Athletic Association took control of women's collegiate sports. Now 49.4% of all women's college teams are coached by men, and 90% of the Division I athletic programs for men and women have been merged and placed under the direction of men. Eileen Livingston, 56, of Duquesne is the only female athletic director of both men's and women's programs at a Division I college.

What is going on? The revolution is over, the battle won. Women athletes have long since taken their positions on playing fields across America. The power structure for women's sports is in place, a perfect pyramid, broad at the base, thanks to Title IX, visible from great distances, thanks to the spotlights trained on individual athletes. Yet who sits astride this pyramid? Who has the power to build, to change, to pick up a telephone and say, "Do it now"? Men, that's who.

Men control the IOC, the USOC, the NCAA, the International Tennis Federation, the United States Golf Association and The Jockey Club, just to mention a few of the organizations that determine the athletic destinies of women. And still women are losing ground.

"Once women started getting paid what they deserved, men were going after their jobs," says Donna Lopiano, women's athletic director at the University of Texas and president of the now defunct Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, an organization that sank under the weight of the NCAA.

"Men hold every single seat of power in sport," says Berlioux. "When elections arise they prefer to elect other men. I can think of only one woman who has a high position on a national Olympic committee, a woman in Africa, the Congo, I think. She acts as treasurer."

In the language of the women's movement this passing of power by men to other men, or, when possible, women to other women, is called gender networking. Billie Jean King, the commissioner of Team Tennis, wants to see gender networking replaced by human networking. "In Team Tennis the teams are mixed, two men and two women," she says. "Women have an equal opportunity to contribute to the outcome of the match. As the matches progress you can watch the players and the spectators thinking less and less of gender and more and more of the outcome of the match. That's the way it should be. That's the way I want it to be."

Come to think of it, why is Billie Jean not the czar of at least women's tennis—if not all of women's sport? She was certainly the most influential female athlete of her age, a living symbol who brought women of every economic group and political persuasion to their feet cheering when she beat Bobby Riggs in straight sets in the Astrodome in 1973.

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