The Boston Globe today reported that a high school athletic director in Lexington, Massachusetts, will serve a one-week suspension for falsifying an email to other athletic directors in the Middlesex League, claiming that a parent was threatening to sue the League over inequities in the girls’ basketball schedule.
The email worked, in that it helped motivate the League to change its schedule so that girls’ teams would have the same number of prime time games as boys’ teams — we blogged about that change, back in December. But the abruptness of the change, along with the apparent threat of litigation, triggered a backlash in the community, as we noted in this earlier post. Kathryn Robb, the parent who had initiated discussions with the Lexington H.S. athletic director Naomi Martin, received negative publicity when community members upset with the schedule change came to believe that she had single-handedly forced the change by threatening to sue. And it was Martin’s falsified email to the other athletic directors that set Robb up to take the fall. Martin’s email incorporated text from an email she had received from Robb, but which she had doctored to suggest that Robb had threatened litigation, which she did not. Martin’s email also misidentified Robb as a civil rights attorney and made it seem that her “threat” addressed the entire league, when in fact, her concern had been limited only to Lexington High School.
Now that the truth has come out, Martin has apologized to Robb, and the Lexington school district has suspended Martin for one week without pay. Lexington’s superintendent, while condemning Martin’s conduct, characterized Martin as well-intentioned, in that she embellished Robb’s concern in order to “strengthen her advocacy” for Title IX compliance. Yet, this decision came at great personal cost to Robb, who became the scapegoat for an unpopular schedule change, and was ridiculed and alienated from the basketball community in which she had participated as a coach as well as a parent.
In my opinion, Martin isn’t the only one deserving of blame in this story. Yes, she threw another woman under the bus, so to speak, in an ends-justify-the-means approach to Title IX advocacy. But the Middlesex League itself is also at fault. After all, the League apparently needed a threat of litigation, however false, in order to do the right thing. Scheduling girls in the inferior, “warm up act,” time slot is a clear violation of Title IX, with any doubt of that erased by the ruling of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals last year, so the Middlesex League should have changed its scheduling practices already, like the other leagues in Massachusetts have done. In addition to the League, the other –and perhaps even worse — culprits in this story are the parents and community members who were so outraged by a decision that boys would now have to share the prime time spotlight with girls. Even if Robb had threatened litigation, she shouldn’t have had to pay the social cost they imposed upon her for pursuing equal treatment. By retaliating against Robb, these folks have ensured that anyone in position to similar to Robb’s and Martin’s in the future will think twice about pushing for change. They, along with their counterparts in communities across the country, are the real reason it takes more than 40 years to achieve equality in athletics.