Students and parents of student at Plymouth Salem High School in Michigan have been dealing with one of the grossest overreaches of Title IX legislation in recent memory. Here’s a useful summary from a recent Yahoo Sports story on the matter:
Six years ago, parents of Plymouth High’s boys’ varsity team raised money and built stadium seating so they could watch from above a black chain-link fence that made spectating difficult, according to WJBK-TV. The parents also installed a new scoreboard for the baseball field.
Now, the school must tear it all down. The U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights opened an investigation following an anonymous complaint. Ultimately, officials demanded that the seating and scoreboard be torn down because the upgrades are superior to Plymouth’s girls’ softball facilities. The boys’ seating is also not handicap accessible, which is a separate violation of government regulations.
One of the purported reasons why high school and college sports tend to receive lucrative funding from the schools themselves is because of the belief that team activities teach you general life lessons that you aren’t able to pick up as easily in the classroom. You’re familiar with them—learning to work with others, show up to practice, overcome failure, the value of perseverance and developing an applied personal code, and so on.
What distinguishes this Title IX dispute is the following: it has nothing to do with school administrators providing benefits to the “boy’s teams” that they aren’t giving to the “girl’s teams.” If the school superintendent was saying, “Here, boys, take this $2,500 check and get yourself some time in the batting cages with a retired ballplayer.” And then said, “Ladies, here’s $150. Go reserve some time at the park and have it.” Then, I’d be right there with you. That blatantly unequal allocation of resources would touch upon the kind of discrimination that Title IX was designed to prevent, and you’d be right to point out that the school was facilitating development for young men in a way that it was not for young women.
But that’s not what is happening at Plymouth Salem High School in Michigan—the school is not discriminating against anyone. Instead, you have the parents of one of the teams setting aside their own time and resources to achieve something that they personally desired. Some parents voluntarily baked cupcakes, brownies, are whatever good was used during the fundraiser. Some parents voluntarily spent their time actually sitting at the table to solicit the donations. And some other parents voluntarily wrote the checks to get the bleachers upgraded. This isn’t discrimination—it’s people coming together towards a common goal and pooling their collective resources (time, labor, and money) to achieve an outcome the desire in their community: improved bleacher seats.
It’s a vindication, not a repudiation, of sound moral principles that the boy’s baseball team has something that the softball team does not. They allocated their time, labor, and money in a way that softball parents did not in order to achieve an outcome they sought. Why wouldn’t it be just that applying those three elements together in a deliberate manner leads to a superior outcome?
Of course, armchair philosophizing about sound moral and ethical values won’t get the school superintendent very far when he is staring at a court order to tear the bleachers down if the softball team’s amenities aren’t coequal to the baseball team’s. As a matter of pragmatics, I would contact the softball team’s parents to see if they would be interested in following a similar strategy to the baseball team in fundraising for upgrades. If that proved impossible, I would then find a way for the softball team to share a field for the baseball team, and I would create a permanent plague/sign to hang outside the field that thanked by name every parent responsible for the fundraising. It would be the best outcome I could devise given the alternatives of: (1) tear down the baseball field amenities, or (2)upgrade the softball fields with money the school district doesn’t have (hence the reason the baseball field turned to fundraising).
Why did this news item from a week ago stick with me a little bit? Because to achieve excellent results, you have to be willing to do things that other people aren’t. If your goal is to be in the top 1% of wealth in the United States, then you can only do it in one of three, or a combination of three, ways: (1) make more money than most, (2) save more money than most, (3) and/or regularly set aside money for a duration longer than most. Henry Ford said his secret to the kind of success that still has us uttering his last name a century later is that “he was willing to work longer and harder than everyone else.” He walked around saying things like, “Quality means doing it right when no one else is looking.”
These baseball parents gave time, labor, and money in a way that others didn’t. Those are the ingredients that often lead to big-time success when harnessed for extended periods of time. That’s why I don’t like to see it penalized or disincentivized out of some well-intentioned but ultimately misguided sense of gender justice. The deliberate use of time, labor, and money is the bundle of character traits and elements that can allow you to put together a life for yourself that will enable you to look back upon someday and say, “This was good.”