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By Leo Kocher
In 1999, two native Iowans, Eric LeSher and Dale Anderson, decided that the issue of the destruction of intercollegiate sports opportunities caused by the policies and rules imposed by the federal government should be injected into the 2000 Presidential campaign.
The group “Iowans Against Quotas” was created and the Iowa Presidential Caucuses, specifically the Republican Presidential candidates in Iowa, were forced to face and engage with the fact that the current application of Title IX was causing enormous damage in college athletics.
Getting the word about Title IX destruction into the general public was crucial back then and Iowans Against Quotas was enormously successful in doing just that.
I asked Eric LeSher, winner of WIN’s 2000 Impact Award, if he would take a few questions about the engineering of what to that date was the greatest awareness-raising step ever about Title IX’s adverse impact.
Let’s hope his story inspires others to pick up the baton in either the 2012 Iowa Caucuses or other early primary states.
ASC: What was the best part of the experience?
LeSher: Seeing the “light go on” in people’s heads as people understood proportionality was just another gentler term for a gender quota system in college athletics and not what was envisioned when Title IX became a law nor what they understood it to be. Also getting to meet, know and work with a lot of great wrestling people.
ASC: What are the personnel needs?
LeSher: Not as big as you think. It could be a one-man crusade or a small group of dedicated people taking the time to go to candidate events.
ASC: What would you do differently today if you were taking this on?
LeSher: Can’t think of much, except I think we put a little too much emphasis on getting signatures on the petition we were doing and not enough time spent confronting candidates’ face to face about the issue. It is one thing to ask someone to sign a petition, it is another tougher thing to go out on a limb and confront a powerful political candidate in public about an issue. Better preparing and empowering individuals to be comfortable doing this is one thing I would do differently.
ASC: What would you advise someone who wants to try to do what you did today?
LeSher: I used e-mail technology to accomplish what we did in 1999-2000. I would think someone doing similar things today could use social media sites as well as e-mails to create a buzz around this issue again.
ASC: What kind of an impact do you think taking another run at the Iowa Caucuses or another early primary state would have today?
LeSher: The three most important results of the efforts of Iowans Against Quotas in 1999/2000 were:
1. the education of the public and the resulting collection of over 20,000 signatures on a petition calling for the elimination of the gender quota called proportionality;
2. a statement issued by then candidate George Bush that reads as follows: “I support Title IX. Title IX has opened up opportunities for young women in both academics and sports, and I think that’s terrific. I do not support a system of quotas or strict proportionality that pits one group against another. We should support a reasonable approach to Title IX that seeks to expand opportunities for women rather than destroy existing men’s teams.”;
3. a plank on the 2000 Republican platform that states, “We also support a reasonable approach to Title IX that seeks to expand opportunities for women without adversely affecting men’s teams.”
ASC: Would taking another run again in Iowa or another early primary state have an impact in 2012?
LeSher: You bet. The level of impact could be great. I know one thing, the results we had in 1999-2000 may not have resulted in men’s swimming being saved from the gender quota at the University of Northern Iowa but wrestling is still at UNI.
I don’t think politicians, be they at the government level or the educational institution level, would make the hasty decision to eliminate wrestling at UNI because they know they would have to deal with a large group of well-informed wrestling fans throughout the state of Iowa who now understand why and how a well-intentioned law like Title IX has been turned into a gender quota.
It would be my hope that one day, the general public knows enough about the issue so that any local school board or high school principal would think long and hard about trying to implement a gender quota at the high school level.
ASC: What motivated you to get involved?
LeSher: In the summer of 1999, I read an article about the declining number of college wrestling teams and why it was happening. I called the author of the article, Dale Anderson and out of our conversations we formed a group called, “Iowans Against Quotas.”
ASC: What do you think of Title IX today?
LeSher: Three very important principles that I think we all can agree on:
1. Discrimination, be it racial or gender, traditional or reverse is morally wrong.
2. Quotas by their very nature are discriminatory … because they dictate outcomes not opportunities.
3. Participation in sports helps develop the qualities in our youth that make them successful both in the classroom and in life.
What I strongly oppose is what Title IX was turned into since 1979 — a gender quota that adversely affects the lives of countless numbers of our youth.
Iowa sports dads, moms and boosters this path has been already blazed. Thanks to the efforts of people like Eric LeSher and the American Sports Council there is much more awareness of the need for Title IX reform today than in 1999.
Currently an overwhelming majority of Americans reject the application of Title IX in high school and college sports. We know Iowa had the leaders to drive another one of the first nails into proportionality’s coffin. We all hope another leader from either Iowa or one of the early primary states has the guts to try and drive another nail into that coffin.
(The American Sports Council is a Washington D.C.-based coalition of alumni, coaches, athletes, parents and fans. It is the leading organization working for Title IX reform. Leo Kocher, the head coach at the University of Chicago, has written about the impact of Title IX for many years.)