Earlier this month, ESPN.com senior writer Andy Katz spoke with President Barack Obama about the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, Title IX and sports in general during a visit to the White House.
Below is a transcript of President Obama’s comments on the importance of Title IX and how sports play a vital role in his daughters’ lives.
Question from Andy Katz: Well, Mr. President, it is going to be the 40th anniversary of Title IX [on June 23]. What is the impact of that legislation on society in America?
Answer from President Obama: I am a huge believer that sports ends up being good for kids, and especially good for girls. It gives them confidence, it gives them a sense of what it means to compete. Studies show that girls who are involved in athletics often do better in school; they are more confident in terms of dealing with boys. And, so, for those of us who grew up just as Title IX was taking off, to see the development of women’s role models in sports, and for girls to know they excelled in something, there would be a spot for them in college where they weren’t second-class, I think has helped to make our society more equal in general.
I think the challenge is making sure that, in terms of implementation, schools continue to take Title IX seriously … and I think understanding that this is good, not just for a particular college, not just for the NCAA, [but that] it is good for our society; it will create stronger, more confident women. I think that is something that I just want to make sure everybody understands.
Q: How much do you think it has affected [girls’] view on sports when this legislation was put in 40 years ago?
A: I think they take it for granted that if they become interested in a sport, if they want to pursue it and if they get good enough, they can play it in college, and that is not something that was taken for granted when I was a young boy — and that is exactly attributable to the legislation. I also think what happened as a consequence of Title IX is that the media started paying more attention to women’s sports, women’s athletics; [women’s sports] started being shown on television, it got more widespread acceptance, and I think people’s recognition that women could be just as good at competing [and] just as fun to watch.
Q: Who are your favorite female athletes?
A: You know, somebody I have gotten to know lately, which has been a lot of fun because I grew up watching her, was Billie Jean King. I still remember that game with Bobby Riggs, and I was rooting for Billie Jean because Bobby Riggs made it easy to root against him. He was being so obnoxious about women, and that was really a big cultural moment for the country. And to see [Billie Jean] continue to excel, and now all the stuff she is doing to help her promote tennis and women sports around the world …
Lisa Leslie … I think she is a wonderful role model for my girls, somebody who is tall and beautiful and a great athlete. Part of what has happened to [women’s] athletics [is] to break down any stereotypes and what it is to be an athlete, and I think Lisa Leslie is a good example of that.
Q: Mr. President, when we were on that aircraft carrier way back in November in San Diego [for the men’s basketball Carrier Classic event], I remember that I asked you about coaching your daughters, and you saw a need to get out on the court. Why is that?
A: First of all, I am probably just a busybody; every once in a while Reggie and I would be watching the [girls’] game, my former assistant Reggie Love. We’d see somebody playing a zone, our girls wouldn’t know where to go, so I would go over and whisper to the coach, who is a wonderful young woman, but she has never played basketball and she works for the National Institute of Health; she is a parent, so we started offering up our services to her. On Sunday, we would have them over to the gym over here and we’d run drills and we’d run plays. It ended up being the most fun I have had doing anything over the past couple of years.
Q: What’s been your go-to drill, certainly at a younger age, for these girls?
A: With these girls … dribbling, passing, making sure that you are boxing out, making sure that they are not practicing shooting 3-pointers when they can barely get the ball to the basket. The whole theory was, don’t practice shots that you are not going to take in a game. … Over time, they continued to get better and they started doing all kinds of stuff — playing full court, working on 3-on-2s and 2-on-1s, running pick-and-rolls. It has been great fun watching them progress.
Q: How critical is it, when coaching younger girls, to find that balance so you are encouraging and coaching, but at the same time, not being too hard [on them] that we have seen sometimes in youth sports in general?
A: Well, the fact of the matter is, the girls wanted to be pushed. One thing that I noticed is, as long as I was always expressing love and appreciation for them when they did something right, they didn’t mind when you said, “You know what, you screwed up on that one,” particularly if you had a sense of humor about it. So there were times where I would pretend to do what they were doing and the balls would land on their heads, or this is how they would rebound without jumping or paying attention to who they are supposed to be boxing out, and they would start laughing.
Q: So, how do [your daughters] respond when, as busy as you are, you take your time out on the weekends to make sure you are there as a parent volunteer?
A: With the girls, they just think of it as dad, that is what dads are supposed to do. They take it for granted. And what was fun, this is now the third year that the team has played together, and to see them all develop at different paces, to get better and start thinking as a team and to feel good when the team does well, to pick each other up when something is not going well — you can’t beat it, you can’t beat the satisfaction.
Q: How much do you want to continue you this?
A: Well, you know, the truth to the matter is, as all of them get better, they’ll have more organized programs; they are going to want to get coaches who know a lot more than I do [about] how to coach basketball. So I suspect that pretty soon I will be retiring to the stands. But to have the chance on the weekends to go out and shoot with them and practice and snag some rebounds for them, that is something I hope to be able to do for a long time to come.