A Lesson in English and Gender: Title IX and the Male Student-Athlete

By Gohl, Sarah E. | Duke Law Journal, February 2001 | Go to article overview

A Lesson in English and Gender: Title IX and the Male Student-Athlete


Gohl, Sarah E., Duke Law Journal


INTRODUCTION

A young boy sits in English class, staring out the window at the empty basketball court on the playground. He wonders why he has to learn that "ball" is a noun and that "round" is an adjective. He daydreams about the day when he is no longer forced to sit in class, the day when he is a college basketball player who calls his own shots and does not have to study because he is "going pro" someday. Why would he need to go to school when he will be making millions of dollars and having thousands of fans scream for him at every game?

Next to the young boy sits a young girl. She, too, is gazing out of the window at the empty basketball court on the playground. She also dreams of being a college basketball player who is "going pro" someday. She does not wonder why she has to learn that "ball" is a noun and that "round" is an adjective, because she understands that her basketball skills will only take her to a certain level in her life. An education will enable her to go beyond the limits of the basketball court.

Years later, these two childhood classmates both attend college on basketball scholarships. They are student-athletes and are quite successful athletically, but they both find it difficult to balance the demands of athletics and academics. They discover that there are times when they feel like they are back in that English class, trying to determine which words are nouns and which are adjectives. The lesson is not as easy as "round ball" because the words they are examining are "student" and "athlete," which are hyphenated to make "student-athlete." Or is it "athlete-student?" Which one is the noun and which one is the adjective? Are they both nouns? Are they both adjectives? Is the term "student-athlete" an oxymoron?(1)

The young girl, who is now a young woman, recognizes that she is a student first and an athlete second. She is a student who possesses unique athletic abilities. She has capitalized on those athletic abilities in order to receive a "free" education. No matter how many professional offers she receives, she is committed to completing her education. She graduates with a respectable grade point average and with plans of either playing professional basketball for a few years or heading straight to medical school. She is thankful for Title IX, because she believes it has given her opportunities she otherwise would not have enjoyed.

In contrast, the young boy cannot distinguish between a noun and an adjective. He is consumed by his athletics, allowing his academic pursuits to fall by the wayside. He has exploited his athletic abilities in order to receive a "free" education. He considers leaving college early to pursue his professional aspirations, but he is permanently injured at the close of his junior season. He never graduates from college. In fact, it is determined that he is illiterate even though he maintained his National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) academic eligibility for three complete seasons. Ironically, the NCAA has provisions in place to protect individuals like this young man from such a fate, but unfortunately the NCAA regulations fell short.(2)

The young man later sues his educational institution for its failure to educate him. His claim fails under an educational negligence cause of action. Should he be entitled to a remedy? Does he have a cause of action under another claim? His attorney decides to take a step back and to look at the situation from a different angle. His attorney learns that throughout the recruiting process, the young man's coach promoted the "quality" education that the young man would receive. The coach also repeatedly scheduled practice times during the young man's tutoring sessions and then threatened to revoke his scholarship if he did not attend practice. The attorney discovers that the coach, with the support of the university, knowingly denied the young man the opportunity to obtain an education by engaging in such practices. …

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