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Urban girls: Have we overdone the pregnancy and drug warnings? Should we talk sports instead?

December 1, 2010 – 12:46 PM

By Laura Pappano

On Monday, two girls from Teen Voices, a magazine (and website!) aimed at helping urban girls counteract negative media images, interviewed me for an article they are writing about Title IX (and, their passion, women’s basketball).

Hopefully, I helped them some. But, really, they are helping me — and others.

When I told them how excited I was that they were writing about sports, one of the girls, Chelsea, put it plainly: They were eager to write about sports, too. As inner city girls they were sick — absolutely sick! — and tired of reading, writing, and hearing warnings about teen pregnancy and drugs. Everything was teen pregnancy and drugs!

It’s not that those messages aren’t important and valid. They are. But – geez – imagine the downer of always being told what NOT to do?! “Watch out! Don’t…”

And yet, these girls hear too little about sports — that is sports that they might play. Urban girls have among the lowest sports participation numbers of any group (study here). Yet, we know from research (here) that playing sports helps counteract early sexual activity.

Media focus on men’s sports is absolutely dominant (and yes, boys sports, too). This fall’s USC Gender in TV study shows that men’s sports receive 96.3% of airtime, while women’s receive 1.6% (gender neutral topics receive 2.1%). I know, I’ve said this before. BUT…Where are the stories of female athletes for girls to see, consider, and own?

How can we expect urban girls to choose athletic participation when they only hear and see guys play? When talk is all about male players? Even on their own school’s teams?

How to normalize athletic participation for girls? Tell our sports stories. Show our numbers.

That’s why I am a fan of the National Women’s Law Center’s campaign that both focuses on raising awareness about 1) Title IX violations at the hs level (including a tool kit to help spot and report violations) and 2) hosting a blog festival next Wed. Dec. 8 featuring girls and women talking about how sports helped them win. Read or write.

It’s time to speak up – and out. Some of us may take sports for granted, but many girls and women in this country and around the world still don’t truly have access.

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