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Rick Telander: In 40th year of Title IX, men still feeling uneasy

Updated: June 30, 2011 4:49AM

I look around. Where are my people?

I count: There’s a man, Richard Melcher, the PR consultant who told me about this event.

There’s another man in the back corner of the big meeting room here on the 15th floor of the Deloitte LLP building on South Wacker, running the PA system.

I swivel. I strain. Nothing. Oh, there’s another. I almost overlooked him — the bartender, motionless in his white jacket, my brother in arms behind the pop cans and wine bottles.

The rest of the crowd is women, young and old, perhaps 150 of them.

The enemy?

And is Title IX their bludgeon with which they are relentlessly taking over what masculine activities we males of the species have earned and deserved since we came out of the caves with clubs and football helmets?

‘‘Sports is just a road to confidence,’’ says Margaret Stender, president and CEO of the Chicago Sky, one of the three women on the panel. ‘‘Girls who play sports have higher self esteem, graduate at a higher rate . . .’’

She goes on, listing the important benefits that females can get from playing organized games and working as hard at them as males. We know these results are true. They are unequivocal.

And how can anyone be against them? Indeed, this discussion, entitled, ‘‘What Will Be Our Daughters’ World?’’ is a celebration of the 40th year since Title IX of the Civil Rights Act was amended June 23, 1972, into a rule that made sports — and just about everything else — available to females.

The law cuts across a lot of terrain, not just games, which is one of the reasons why this event is being held here in Deloitte territory. The giant international accounting firm has a female chairman for its United States division, Sharon Allen, and as her letter to attendees states, Deloitte is interested in hiring women ‘‘because great value derives not only from women as leaders, but also from the diversity of thought that women can help provide.’’

Makes sense.

It takes two to tango, and men, well, we do run out of ideas every now and then.

But what men mostly think about Title IX is that it takes away sports opportunities for guys and gives them to girls. This is a non-fact that has been proven to be just that. But it persists. Sometimes even in my own brain.

Now is nothing like then

Why, I sometimes want to scream, do we need another women’s field hockey team when men can’t even keep wrestling and baseball afloat?

But equality never comes easily, and I am always reminded of the logic of Title IX — can you be free if those around you are not?

This event has been presented by The Chicago Network, a prestigious organization of professional women, and there is a dividing line that is clear: those women who came of age before Title IX and those who came of age after. The young girls in the room fidget and seem not to understand how any female could not grow up without AYSO soccer and swim teams and school basketball and on and on.

Yet Hedy Ratner, founder of the Women’s Business Development Center, tells them how she and her ilk had almost nothing available to them through the 1950s, ’60s and early ’70s. Stender, who earned the first female basketball scholarship to Richmond, regales the crowd with the story of how the women’s team members finally got their first red, suede Converse basketball shoes — two years after she started.

And there are chuckles and clucks of utter disgust as a video of an WNBA game shows Penny Hardaway watching in the stands and being asked by a reporter how he thinks the game could be improved.

‘‘To be honest,’’ Penny says, ‘‘better uniforms.’’ Skin-tight ones, he explains.

An athletic female body is a beautiful body, but at some point, sexiness — not even sex, as a definition of humanity — is irrelevant here. That’s what the panelists say, and the girls know.

It’s us guys, with our football cathedrals and NCAA big dances, who are dubious about the funding, the guidelines, the fact that isn’t there something different about guys and gals?

The answer, when it pertains to using your body in competition and teamwork and the passion of sport, is no.

Pushed to the sidelines?

I have a wife, three daughters and a female dog. I have a mother, two sisters and no brothers. I do have a father and one son, but our guy motto is, ‘‘Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned.’’

It’s kind of a joke, really.

And it hides the seeping fear all males have deep inside: If women do everything we do — and they are smarter and more reasonable and more future-oriented — what is left for us?

The NFL?

It’s locked out.

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