A Weighty Issue

All these years after the passage of Title IX, the landmark federal legislation intended to bring about gender equity in education, there is at least one area of campus life where that equity has yet to take hold. Just try to find out how much your favorite jockette weighs.

When the Mystics drafted Tausha Mills with their first pick in last week's WNBA draft, team officials told the press that she tipped the scales at 232 pounds, which explained her nickname--"the Female Shaq"--and made the new center the heaviest player in franchise history. But they weren't able to say exactly how large second-round choice Tonya Washington, currently a senior at the University of Florida, has been living.

Unlike Mills, who once played pro ball in the now-defunct ABL, Washington had no prior professional experience. And because a bizarre sort of "don't ask, don't tell" policy is in place at Florida and colleges everywhere, Washington's weight wasn't readily available to the media.

At the University of Maryland, for example, size clearly matters more when male players are concerned. The roster of the men's basketball team put together by the athletic department includes each player's jersey number, position, class, height, weight, and hometown. The official women's basketball roster lists all that information--except weight. The same split system holds for the lacrosse and soccer squads at Maryland, one of only a handful of NCAA schools to have a woman as athletic director (Debbie Yow). The bottom line: No female athlete in College Park has her weight released by the school.

"It's always been that way here," Maryland Sports Information Director Chuck Walsh tells me.

Brad Bower, sports information director at George Washington University, tells me that the same situation exists at Foggy Bottom.

"We do not list weights for women athletes here. Just for men," says Bower.

Not that the weight embargo is just a local phenomenon. From modern women's basketball powerhouses such as Tennessee and Connecticut to liberal-arts schools like Smith College, where the distaff version of hoops was introduced back in 1892, a similar scheme stands: Female players' weights are withheld.

And although nobody would admit having a hard and fast rule against divulging nonmale mass, one longtime sports information director at a local NCAA school, who requested that his name not be used, tells me that for all the talk of equality, he's seen resistance to changing the status quo. According to this sports information director, a proposal to standardize the format of basketball rosters at all schools in his conference was shot down because of the weight issue.

And, he says, nothing more complicated than embarrassment and hypocrisy are behind the schools' reluctance to impart female pounds as they do male pounds.

"You hear an awful lot about gender equity from women athletes, but the truth is: Women really don't want their weights listed like the men," says the sports information director. "All our athletes, men and women, are given questionnaires each season that ask them certain things about themselves: where they live, how old they are, how much they weigh. Most women just leave that blank.

"It's not like there's ever been a crusade to force them to say how much they weigh, and if I wanted to I could just go to the team trainer to get that information. But it is definitely a strange thing that in this day and age the weights are a standard part of every men's basketball team roster, but not for the women. I guess a lot of women are just [embarrassed] to give their weight, and other people still think it's not right to approach a woman and ask her how much she weighs."

The Women's Sports Foundation, created in 1974--two years after Title IX--has fought many battles for equality on the basketball court. The group has, in the past, mounted a bid to rid the NCAA of team names that are gender-specific. (The South Carolina Lady Gamecocks, the Providence Lady Friars, and the San Francisco Lady Dons were cited by the WSF as being particularly offensive and inane.)

But the WSF has not pushed the sporting establishment to ensure that the ladies get the same treatment as the gents in the area of weight disclosures.

The NCAA isn't likely to make such a change on its own. There are signs away from the basketball court that seem to indicate the group's inclination to keep its women athletes from getting self-conscious about their weight: Men's crew is divided into "lightweight" and "heavyweight" categories; women rowers compete in either the "lightweight" or the "open" division.

However the discriminatory weight practice got started, good intentions could keep it in place. Last year, an NCAA-sponsored study found that almost half of all Division I female athletes are prone to some form of eating disorder, and that 13 percent suffer from some degree of anorexia or bulimia. And dietitians and doctors consulted by the group warned that any emphasis on weight--even something as simple as a group weigh-in--is "more problematic for females" than male athletes. One consultant advised that women athletes should be asked to step on the scales only to determine dehydration rates during workouts, and that even then the weigh-ins should be conducted in "a private setting."

Pro athletes aren't afforded any such privacy. As the ABL did, the WNBA, now in its fourth year, discloses players' weight as a matter of policy. While introducing the top draft choice, Mystics management made it clear that Mills' bulk was among the reasons she was picked, and indicated that every one of her 232 pounds would be welcome at training camp. If Mills was at all bothered by the focus on weight on draft day, she certainly didn't let on. You could say she took it like a man.--Dave McKenna

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