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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Women in sports

A young man who looked like a skinhead came to the door the other day, asking if we could give him enough gas to make it to the station down the road. Hubby sized him up and decided that our principles of good will outweighed the possible loss of a gas can. He led him to the garage, and as they talked, the young man said that someone had thrown a bottle at him. He was shocked and appalled – and even more so when Hubby suggested it may have had something to do with the Confederate flag baseball cap that he was wearing.

His eyes widened in surprise, as though it never had occurred to him that anyone would take offense. So Hubby went further and said that he would appreciate it if the cap were gone when he brought the gas can back. He did and it was. Hubby and I talked about it, and we agreed that this was a case of true ignorance, not malice. The kid wasn’t a bully who had deliberate intentions of ticking off liberals, nor perhaps even African Americans. He just never had thought about it before. He probably saw the railings of Rush and his ilk as entirely abstract, not connected to real people. It doubtless never occurred to him that the doorbell could be answered by a black person, and I wondered what might have happened next.

But he saw Hubby’s point. I’m also rejoicing that the South Carolina flag came down – with the vote to do so by a much larger margin than anyone expected. Officials in Escambia County, the heart of the Redneck Riviera, voted to remove the symbol of slavery from their public buildings. And because it is on private property, no one is forcing the Sons of Confederate Veterans to forfeit their huge flag at I-75 and I-4. Some young people, though, are using Kickstarter to raise money for a bigger Unity Flag nearby. I wish them well. That is what democracy is all about.

Most important, the race war that Dylann Roof predicted didn’t even begin to happen. People, even people who label themselves conservatives, never will go back to the segregation and racial terrorism that was real a generation ago. Even some right-wingers seem to be acknowledging that, yes, the majority of voters elected an African American as president – twice. When I compare today’s South to that of my youth, I believe we have overcome.

* * *

I’m happy, too, about the US women’s soccer team winning the World Cup. I played soccer in college because we girls had to take a team sport to equate to the ROTC that boys in Arkansas’s public colleges had to take. I found soccer a dreadful experience – but I know other young women feel differently, and I’m glad that their athletic achievement is beginning to be recognized. Because the female president of the Borough of Manhattan requested it, they got the first ever ticker-tape parade in New York that honored a team of female athletes. At least as far as I can tell, it was the first ever. Some news sources said “the first in fifty years,” but a list of sports teams that have been recognized shows only all-male teams – and from New York. This national recognition for women thus becomes a really big deal.

Ticker-tape parades, for those of you who are young, were called that because the traditional route runs through Wall Street, and celebrants threw strips of scrap paper from their office windows down onto the marchers. “Ticker tape” came from the teletype machines that predated computers. Today, they use confetti. The first such parade was spontaneous, during the 1886 dedication of the Statue of Liberty. For the next half-century, the only women honored were foreign queens who accompanied kings – but the first female honoree was indeed an athlete.

She was Gertrude Ederle, who was celebrated as the first woman to swim the English Channel. I had known of Ederle and mentioned her in some of my books, but I learned something by researching this that I hadn’t known. Ederle’s parade was in July 1926 – and in August, there was a second parade to honor Amelia Gade Corson, of whom I’d never heard. She was the second woman and the first mother to swim the 20.6 miles from Calais, France to Dover, England.

I’ve written appreciably more about the third woman honored with a ticker tape parade. It was the very next year, and she was Tampa-connected Ruth Elder. She was an airplane pilot, and the parade was to honor her and her male colleague for their trans-Atlantic flight. It was in September 1927, just months after “Lucky” Lindbergh’s famous flight in May. The flight of The American Girl, however, was not as successful: Engine problems caused them to make a deliberate crash landing near a ship, but New York honored them anyway. If you want to read more about Ruth Elder, you can do so in my recently reissued Real Women of Tampa and Hillsborough County. Just call the University of Tampa Press.

Ruth Elder soon was eclipsed by Amelia Earhardt, who was in fact a much more important aviator than Elder ever pretended to be. Earhardt’s parade was in 1932, at the depth of the Great Depression, and no more women were honored for almost two decades. Lots of men were featured, especially military men during and after World War II. Someone must have noticed because in 1951, there was a parade for “the women of the armed forces.” Maybe I’ll research this someday, too, because although I’ve written two books on military women during that era, nothing about 1951 rings as meaningful. Better they should have honored the dozens of women in the Army Nurse Corps who were prisoners of war in the Pacific; they finally got home in 1945, after having been bombed by the Japanese in 1941.

A 1948 congressional act gave women regular status in the military, as opposed to their World War II auxiliary status, and that could have been a parade-worthy year. As for 1951, I don’t have a ready clue. I’ll keep looking and let you know. It may have had something to do with the fact that President Harry Truman appointed Anna Rosenberg, a native New Yorker, as the nation’s first female assistant secretary of the Defense Department. (A new name; it had been the straightforward War Department prior to that.)

The parade tradition returned to athletics in 1957 – but not to the swimming of the first honorees. This also was extremely meaningful in that 1957 was still early in the modern civil rights movement, but the athlete honored was an African American. Althea Gibson was cheered down Wall Street because of her international victory in tennis at England’s famed Wimbledon. She, too, has a Florida connection: Gibson graduated from Tallahassee’s FAMU – or Florida Agricultural & Mechanical College, a name that spelled out the limited expectations for racial minorities. You can read more about Florida A&M and Althea Gibson in my truly new book, They Dared to Dream: Florida Women Who Shaped History. Contact the University Press of Florida in Gainesville.

* * *

But back to the recent honoring of the National Women’s Soccer team. According to the report that I read in Women’s E-News (please subscribe to this daily service): “A giant plane hovered over the parade with a message reading, ‘@Ultraviolet: FIFA – Equal Pay for Equal Play.’” (Translated from its French name, FIFA is the international federation for what is called football everywhere except here; we call it soccer.) Ultraviolet also is another electronic news source for me. Its e-mails come from Nita and Shaunna, and they are strong advocates for women. I’m delighted that their budget could manage a plane, but the message truly is understated: “Equal play” is not accurate, as the US men’s team isn’t close to equal; they lost in the first round. Yet the male team “earned” nearly forty times as much as the winning women.

And that brings me to information forwarded by my longtime friend Kathy Betancourt. She is retired from a career as the lobbyist for the Classroom Teachers Association, the City of Tampa, and finally USF. Both Kathy and I were cheerleaders in our youth, but she has continued to cheer on sports teams, both male and female, far longer than I. Her e-mail was titled “Adjuncts should learn to play football.”

It focused on the athletic scholarship packages at Florida State University, although FSU isn’t the only school that will be providing such stipends. The article sent to me quoted a small story on June 28 by Tallahassee Democrat writer Gerald Ensley. “The Florida State Board of Trustees on Friday learned FSU scholarship athletes will start receiving $4,500 to $6,000 apiece annually, as part of the NCAA-allowed ‘cost of living’ stipend… FSU Athletic Director Stan Wilcox told the trustees that FSU’s 457 scholarship athletes will receive $4,500 (in-state students) and $6,000 (out of state).”

You read that right. 457 game-playing students will get upwards of $4,500 each, in addition to tuition and other goodies. Meanwhile, adjunct professors -- who increasingly teach the majority of entering students -- earn an average of $2,500 per eighteen-week course. Almost all have master’s degrees and many have doctorates, and they teach classes on everything from astronomy to zoology and in between. An adjunct’s cost of living probably is higher than that of his or her students, and yet these professors are paid about half of what the kids will get. If you object to these priorities in higher education, you might contact the trustees or the president at your favorite NCAA Division 1 school. And/or the governor who appoints such wimps as trustees.


Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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