This month marks the 50th Anniversary of Title IX, the federal law which prohibits discrimination based on sex in education programs and activities. A new special from NPR marks the anniversary by telling the story of former UO women’s basketball coach Jody Runge, who pushed to make that promise of equity a reality for the university’s women’s basketball team. Jody Runge leaned on Title IX to turn a losing team into a Pac-Ten powerhouse and to close a pay gap with the men’s coach, but she paid a price for her determination. Journalist Emily Harris teamed with producer Ida Hardin and NPR’s Enterprise Storytelling Unit to report and produce this documentary, featuring the progress that Title IX brought for women in college athletics, as well as costs of that progress and challenges that remain. OPB TV will air “Benching the Patriarchy - 50 Years of Title IX” on Sunday, June 19th at 9pm. We talk to producer Ida Hardin about the work.
Note: The following transcript was computer generated and edited by a volunteer.
Jenn Chávez: This is Think Out Loud on OPB. I’m Jenn Chávez in for Dave Miller. Title IX turns 50 years old this month. That’s the federal law which prohibits discrimination based on sex and education programs and activities. A new NPR special called “Benching the Patriarchy” marks that anniversary by telling the story of former University of Oregon women’s basketball coach Jody Runge. She pushed to make Title IX’s promise of equity a reality at the school, but she paid a price for it too.
Journalist Emily Harris teamed up with audio producer Ida Hardin to tell Jody Runge’s story for NPR and Ida Hardin joins me now to talk more about it. Ida, welcome to the show.
Ida Hardin: Thanks, Jenn.
Chávez: Jody Runge first came to U of O as a coach in 1993, and that is two decades into Title IX. What kind of inequities did she find when she got there?
Hardin: Oh, she faced a whole bunch of inequities when she got to the University of Oregon. First, she came in as one of the lowest paid coaches in the Pac-Ten at the time. And then, just in the details. Practice times ‒ they had the earliest practice time. I think they started at seven in the morning. Locker rooms ‒ they had pretty bad locker rooms, and that’s something that extended up all the way until they changed to a new arena. They had to walk across a long, big hallway in between their locker room and the showers, where you had men players walking through, [and] staff, sometimes media, to get to and from. And then everything from how women’s basketball was advertised, brought to the public, how they brought in people into the stands. It was all something that she had to fight for.
Chávez: One central issue as well I think was her contract. She had to negotiate, renegotiate and sign a new contract every year instead of having multi-year contracts. She talks about speaking with the athletic director about it in this clip from the special that we have.
Jody Runge: I went to him and said, ‘hey, I don’t need a raise. I know we don’t have any money, but a multiyear contract would be really helpful here.’ And it was an immediate response of, ‘we don’t do that for women’s sports.’
Chávez: Why was a multiyear contract important to Jody Runge?
Hardin: First of all, I think it signals an investment into your program. That’s why only the men’s football team and men’s basketball team, because the university was invested in those programs. And by telling a coach that you want them to be around for multiple years, to build that program is a big statement. But also it plays into how you’re recruiting. You’re going out to talk to these young women to encourage them to come play for your program and they want to know you’re going to be there for the four years. They want to know who’s going to be their leader, who’s going to be taking them into these games, what kind of style that coach is going to bring. Those are really important things in recruiting for a program.
Chávez: So if a student wants to potentially come play for their program, then if the coach is just potentially going to leave the next year, then that’s going to be really disruptive for their development as a player?
Hardin: Oh, absolutely. And it’s very important to know that who you’re playing for in those years. And if a kid thinks that you’re gonna leave because that university is not invested in that coach, then they might go play somewhere else that is invested in their coach.
Chávez: We’re talking about some of the inequities that Jody Runges went on to address: the pay equity issue, the issue of contract inequities. How did she use Title IX specifically to push for some of the changes that she did?
Hardin: She used Title IX for a lot of things. It gave her a law that stated that everybody that attends a federal institution that gets federal money will be not discriminated, based on sex. And everything she was fighting for was to get the same things that the men’s programs were getting. So that gave her a lever to push, something to state that you have to follow the law. So when she’s asking for the equal amount of, just say tennis shoes that Nike is giving to the men’s, she has cause. They have to listen to her.
Chávez: The one thing about Jody Runge is that she came in and she immediately kind of turned this team around. They started going to NCAA tournaments every year and she, in some ways, was really highly regarded as a coach. We have a clip from the special from Eugene sports columnist Ron Bellamy talking about watching coach Runge walk into a playoff game.
Ron Bellamy: I’m sitting behind the basket at one end and she’s coming out of this long tunnel at the other end, followed by her two assistant coaches. She’s 6′3 and she’s got her heels on so she’s 6′5, probably. She’s walking ramrod straight out into that arena and I’m thinking if you’re a player, you’d follow that anywhere.
Chávez: He says, if you’re a player, you’d follow that anywhere. What was Coach Runge’s relationship with her players like?
Hardin: I think that that speaks for itself in the sense that her recruiting got stronger and stronger with each class she brought in. Even in her last year, she had one of the best recruiting classes coming in the next year. Coach Runge is a very straightforward person. She’s not a mother figure. She is a person that says what she thinks and if you’re a player that’s not doing what she wants you to do, she’s not going to tiptoe around the issue. She is a direct person. She will come up and let you know that you need to get out of your head, or you need to start working harder on this, or you need to start paying more attention to this and sometimes not in the gentlest way. And I think that for female players, especially for female players that are sometimes being coached by a woman ‒ you have to think this is the ‘90s ‒ coached by a woman at that level for the first time.
I think it’s just a lot of things to get used to and personalities to get used to. But Jody recruited players that she used to say would go to war for her. She recruited players that played with fire in their eyes. She recruited players that not necessarily had everything they needed, but she knew she could build off of. And some players did really well with the way Jody coached and how her messaging happened, and some players didn’t. And I think that that happens a lot on any team.
Chávez: Kind of exactly like you’re talking about, as time goes on, this narrative does start to emerge about Jody’s personality, and her personal coaching style. We have another clip in which she kind of sums that up in her own words.
Jody Runge: My assistants would tell me often that the kids don’t even think you go to the grocery store, that they’re not seeing that soft underbelly side of you very often. It’s certainly there, but there’s very little gray area with me. That comes off harsh, or that comes off unapproachable or scary. I don’t know.
Chávez: And I think by saying they’re going to the grocery store, I think that evokes the gender stereotype of women being the ones who grocery shop and cook, and hearing her talk about this, I think this general concept probably sounds familiar to so many women in the workplace. On the one hand, you find yourself in this position where you have to fight harder for everything, but you’re also expected to be gentle and motherly. Can you talk a little bit more about how these two expectations come into conflict for Coach Runge?
Hardin: I don’t think Coach Runge ever wanted to be put in that box of being a mother and a coach. She’s a coach, and she wanted to be seen as a coach. Like you said, like so many women are forced to play that motherly role just by being a woman and that came at direct odds with Coach Runge. She was brought there to do a job, which was to coach these women and yes, mentor women. But be their mother or act like their mother, that’s an entirely different role and an unrealistic expectation for any coach. You don’t often think your … I mean, I grew up playing sports. I never thought of my male coach and about whether or not he was going to the grocery store or not. So yeah, it’s unfair expectations. She was definitely thrown into that mother box.
Chávez: We’re looking back on Jody Runge’s coaching career and talking about it today in 2022, and she has gotten recognition for her impact on the school and the sport today. What kind of recognition or support did she get at the time?
Hardin: From the fans, the fans loved her. I think that you can look at her, sort of her record, she was the winningest coach at that time and all the way up until last year for the University of Oregon women’s basketball program. Attendance levels continued to climb every year that she was there. She brought in more revenue. She was doing everything that the university asked her to do. And when you ask me, at that time, what did she get? Well, she got forced out, and I look at the reporting and I look at the unfolding of the events that happened, and she didn’t have the support of her administration.
You know, she never coached again. She lost her opportunity and a lot of women lost that opportunity. She’s not alone.
Chávez: Would you draw a direct line between Jody Runge’s time at U of O in terms of the things that she pushed for there and for example, the success of a star player like Sabrina Ionescu today?
Hardin: Yes, I would not draw a direct line, I would draw several lines. From women as far back as Becky Sisley, who was the first female athletic director and only athletic female athletic director, that got things started with Title IX implementation back in ‘72-’79 at the University of Oregon, and her fights that she had with all male administrators.
I would draw a line from Bev Smith, the perennial All-Star player in basketball whose number was retired and was a two-time All-American at the University of Oregon. There’s just so many women that have been pushing for change at the University of Oregon and cracking that glass ceiling. And by the time Jody got up there, she sent that glass ceiling crashing to the floor. There have been hiccups along the way since she left, and that comes from donors that don’t believe that Title IX necessarily should do all that it’s doing. Big donors. But I think now at this time that they’re finally allowing it, making a platform for a player like Sabrina. Selling her jersey, promoting her, seeing her as the athlete that she is. So yeah, I think that Jody and a whole bunch of other amazing people made that platform for Sabrina, for sure.
Chávez: So we are 50 years into Title IX this month and I think one takeaway of the special is that, yes, there is a lot of progress that’s been made, but lots of progress that’s still needed. What did you find in terms of persisting inequities in college sports?
Hardin: Yeah Jenn, I could go into persisting inequalities nationally that are still there and existing, and then I can look like right in my backyard at the University of Oregon. University of Oregon has a hype video that it shows in most of its games. It’s meant there to build up the crowd and get everybody super excited, and it’s a super fun video. It’s called “Shout”. And if you’re an Oregon sports fan, you know what I’m talking about. It starts off in a toga party in the basement of this house and everybody dressed in these togas are former U of O athletes. And it’s a big enough basement where they have a band, Otis Day and the Knights playing the song, “Shout”, and it has everybody dancing, and getting excited, and then you look across the room and it is filled with male players. So many male players. Jenn, guess how many women players are in that room.
Chávez: Oh no; any?
Hardin: There are two female athletes. Two female athletes in that entire party. That whole celebration of U of O athletes and we wonder why today, why we don’t know our history about female athletes and we don’t know the greats that have played at the University of Oregon. I think it’s just one of those glaring things. I didn’t even notice until I started this story and I went back. You’re always looking for different tape and film and stuff to use, and “Animal House” was filmed here in Oregon and that’s what the toga party is based off of and that movie was sexist, and I would say that this hype video is also today ‒ any day ‒ sexist. And if you want to change things, maybe you should start right here in your backyard and maybe change that video a little bit.
Chávez: Thank you so much for helping to tell some of that history for us and for anyone who listens to the special. And thank you for joining me today, Ida.
Hardin: Thank you, Jenn. I really appreciate it.
Chávez: I’ve been speaking with Ida Hardin, a producer of a new NPR special about former University of Oregon women’s basketball coach, Jody Runge. OPB will air “Benching the Patriarchy: 50 years of Title IX” this Sunday, June 19th at 9:00 p.m.
And finally today we asked how you have been affected by inflation, here’s some of what we heard.
Deanna Brodsky: My name is Deanna Brodsky, I currently reside in Bend, Oregon. The ways in which inflation has directly affected me, I’ve had to sell my car, which was one of my favorite possessions, just to pay off the debt that I accumulated from the pandemic. But then along with inflation, I’ve had to alter where I go grocery shopping and what food I buy. I’ve had to just overall be more frugal and let a lot of the luxurious things that I did to tend to myself kind of fall away, such as massage, or chiropractic or acupuncture.
Marcus: My name is Marcus, calling from Portland. Due to the higher gas prices and inflation all around I basically have been choosing to work more and that is what it is, but it does keep me away from my family. I have a wife and two small children. My wife is pregnant and I have been working weekends and picking up extra hours just to continue to make ends meet.
Caller: I’m calling from Bend, Oregon where organic lactose free milk has reached $7.49 for a half gallon. In response to inflation and price hikes I have changed where I shop from local places to bigger commercial box stores. I have also rented out my spare room to a college student.
Mark Mooney: My name is Mark Mooney and I’m a hospice nurse. I live in Vancouver, Washington and I drive every day to patients’ houses and the price of gas is really impacting my financial situation. Yes, I get reimbursed for driving but the reimbursement amount does not even cover what the price of gas has become. And it’s really hard because I don’t consider what I do a job. I love what I do. I help patients and their families deal with death every day and when I have to consider gas as a part of my job, it’s horrendous. It’s absolutely horrendous. And it makes me really sad because I know that the executives who run the oil companies are making record profits.
Marianne Casson: My name is Marianne Casson, calling from Portland, Oregon. I really don’t want to sound smug about this because we are two retirees living on fixed incomes, but I have to say inflation really has not impacted us heavily. In fact what it’s done is reinforced some habits we have been practicing for decades. The two biggest ones in this particular case have to do with how we approach driving. We do it as little as we possibly can. Instead we walk, bike, take public transportation. Secondly, we have been vegetarians for 50 years, so it’s pretty easy to avoid meat and if you stay with vegetables and plant based products, you find that your inflation really isn’t a big deal.
Carrie: This is Carrie calling from Sandy, and I’m here to bring a lighthearted note on the inflation that’s happening and just share this data point that the cost to fill my growler with craft beer has not changed.
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