Sweet land of discrimination

Posted: May 14, 2002 12:00 AM
The American penchant for suing the pants off people isn't completely without rational foundation. Some laws, some actions, need to be contested with vigor and spirit. May it please the court, the National Wrestling Coaches Association, the National Collegiate Gymnastics Association and the U.S. Track Coaches Association have a case that deserves a serious and attentive ear. The coaches object strenuously to the distorted interpretations of federal law that are putting a stop to men's wrestling, gymnastics and track. To this intent, the wrestling coaches last January filed a suit that the other associations have rightly joined. The present mess proceeds, as messes often will, from good intentions. Congress 30 years ago forbade "discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance." Because just about all colleges dine hungrily at the federal trough, the mandate applied to just about all colleges. There has been an unforeseen consequence: the enactment of a de facto quota system under which college men's teams, many with distinguished histories, are being abolished in order to accommodate women's sports. Title IX, as the law is known, is being read by colleges and universities as requiring athletic "opportunity" in proportion to male and female enrollment. A school can't have 60-80 percent male enrollment in sports programs. That would be discriminatory. Bye-bye, men's wrestling; bye-bye, men's track and field. Among the former programs, 170 have been cut in recent years; among the latter, 45. It gets worse. Men's track and field at Tulane, Bowling Green and Vermont are out of business forever, as of this month. Advocates of women's sports have a ready remedy: Cut back football scholarships. This theoretically logical prospect is, with due respect, unlikely. On many a university's public face, football is the mouth and the eyes. Ergo, as they said in old-time academia ... An irony grabs the spectator right away. Hasn't athletics siphoned off for a long time a sometimes unholy share of college resources? Probably. But that wouldn't be the present point. That point would be the continuing inequity of running the country via governmentally imposed quotas: You get that much, she gets this much, and so on. Quotas are a new and demented way of doing business in America, dating only from the late '60s and the civil rights backlash against decades of racial discrimination. The federal government decreed, if not always in so many words, that victims of past discrimination -- i.e., blacks -- deserved special treatment. Soon, women were added to the equation as feminism assumed the dimensions of a civil rights crusade. The quota mentality entered every department of life: individual performance was subordinated to group identity, with the government as guarantor and enforcer. Burdens and opportunities were to be distributed in rough proportion to the size of the group within the population. So now we hammerlock the wrestlers and hamstring the javelin throwers. Let's have some equality around the old gym! It is odd in this context to watch how a quota system can recoil against once-favored beneficiaries. As Bowling Green's track coach -- a black man -- told National Review's Katheryn Jean Lopez, "You're dropping sports like wrestling and track and field which have traditionally had large numbers of minorities. And you are adding sports like rowing and synchronized skating. You're losing Olympic sports and a great way for minority students to get a foot in the door at schools." The coaches, in their lawsuit, may be up against it, so ingrained now is our national acceptance of reverse discrimination. On the other hand, that very acceptance bolsters the case for shaking up the citizens of a country tenaciously committed to merit except, you know, when merit gets in some "deserving" person's way. Determinations of this character aren't the business of government. Excuse me; I mean, of course, the business of free and democratic government, oblivious as humanly possible to the variations among humans; committed to treating all citizens as much alike as possible.