“The only thing I’ve wanted to do since I was five that I haven’t done is to become a pitcher for the New York Yankees.”
Dr. Donna Lopiano, the keynote speaker of the Third Annual Distinguished Women in Sports lecture series, has accomplished just about everything else. She shared her experiences with a packed audience in Corwin Pavilion on Monday night.
She is a member of the Softball Hall of Fame. She participated in 26 national championships in four different sports and is a nine-time All-American at four different positions in softball. In 1995, she was named one of the 100 most-influential people in sports by Sporting News.
Growing up, Lopiano played volleyball, basketball, field hockey and softball. However, she was not able to fulfill these passions. “I think my life has been defined by what I couldn’t do, not what I have done,” she said.
As a girl, she tried out for little league baseball and was drafted first. But as she stood in line to collect her uniform, someone noticed that she was a girl. Out came the rulebook. And, Lopiano said, “on page 14, in the center of the page were four words that changed my life: ‘No girls are allowed.’ ”
She moved on, achieving success after success in sports, which eventually took her to Southern Connecticut State University. All the while, she said, she saw women having to push harder to get the same respect, facilities and priorities as men’s sports.
Title IX, the 1972 law that bans sex discrimination in U.S. schools, sought to change that.
“Everyone understands the stakes are very high,” Lopiano said. “The stakes are all about whether you will succeed after sports.”
Lopiano said men succeed after sports because of the lessons of teamwork, a benefit that she said is only now available to women. She compared business lessons with lessons from youth sports, which teach boys to have the appearance of confidence and capability in pursuing career avenues, to remember former teammates and to help each other get jobs. “Women,” she said, “are taught not to help each other.”
She said that lesson is beginning to change as more women get involved in sports.
“The good news is now women are on TV more than horses and dogs,” Lopiano said.
Still, 88 percent of all television hours in sports today are dedicated to men’s sports, a number that Lopiano said had not changed in 10 years. She also pointed to the condition of men’s baseball fields, which are palatial compared to women’s softball fields.
Lopiano’s organization, the Women’s Sports Foundation, seeks to change this. The nonprofit, founded in 1974 by tennis player Billie Jean King, gives over $1 million in grants to girl’s and women’s sports programs each year. Lopiano said women’s athletic scholarships now total over $180 million annually.
“[Lopiano] is the definitive voice in gender equity in the United States,” said Women’s Center Coordinator Judy Guillermo-Newton, who said she saw the same things growing up.
“I was one of those frustrated women athletes,” she said. “There weren’t many options for us.”
The future, Lopiano said, will be different. “Women are going to play football. If you don’t think so, look at the statistics. Forty-five percent of the audience members are women,” she said. “Women are going to wrestle. Women are going to be in extreme sports. You’re going to see a women’s sports channel.”