Book Review: Deborah Brake Brings Her A Game

Deborah Brake’s book Getting in the Game: Title IX and the Women’s Sports Revolution immediately captures the attention of the reader and does not let go until the end.

Although grounded in the study of law, Getting in the Game is interdisciplinary in nature, pulling from history, psychology, and feminist theory. Brake, a University of Pittsburgh law professor and member of the WLP’s Honorary Committee for the 2010 Rights to Realities party, artfully blends theory, legal analysis and case law with stories that demonstrate how individuals have been affected by Title IX. By page six the reader has learned how instrumental athletic programs are in promoting equality and empowering young women.

Early in the book, Brake presents a detailed discussion of the three-part test for equal participation opportunities for women, which she describes as one of the most “radical of Title IX’s equality measures.” She finds the test to be successful based on the test’s emphasis on actual participation of women in sports, as opposed to “merely espousing the ideal of a gender-neutral process.”

Cheerleading has become a stronger presence in the media, both because of pop culture (movies like Bring it On) and because of Quinnipiac University’s recent lawsuit in which a federal judge ruled that cheerleading cannot be considered a competitive sport. Brake examines these changing perceptions of cheerleading and implications extending Title IX to cheerleading.  The author describes the tensions between different feminist views on the value of cheerleading, but ultimately allows for the potentially empowering nature of cheerleading for young women despite associations of cheerleaders with sexuality and subordination.

Brake also does not hesitate to discuss the possibility that a school could avoid adding additional sports for women if cheerleading were considered a sport under Title IX. However, Brake shows how Title IX parallels the feminist discussion of how cheerleading does, or does not, empower young women when she directs the reader to recent guidance from the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights that allows for the possibility that cheerleading may be recognized as an official sport on a case-by-case basis.

There is a bittersweet discussion of the Women’s Law Project’s Choike v. Slippery Rock University litigation and subsequent attempts by schools to engage in “roster management” in order to comply with Title IX. Although Brake concludes that the Slippery Rock case was a “qualified” victory, she notes that following the Slippery Rock decision the court allowed Slippery Rock to engage in roster management, capping rosters on male sports and expanding rosters for female sports, instead of requiring new athletic opportunities for women.

In other sections of Getting in the Game, Brake meets controversial subjects, such as claims of Title IX weakening men’s sports, head on. She also discusses mostly-ignored issues, including female athletes and pregnancy, the dwindling number of female coaches, and Title IX’s failure to protect young female athletes from sexual harassment.

However, the most impressive aspect of this book is not any one section. What makes this book a must-read for anyone interested in feminist legal theory, Title IX, or athletic programs is Brake’s ability to write in a fashion that is likely to be as compelling to younger participants in school athletic programs as it is to academics seeking a thorough and balanced examination of Title IX and women’s sports.

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The Women's Law Project creates a more just and equitable society by advancing the rights and status of all women throughout their lives. To this end, we engage in high-impact litigation, advocacy, and education.
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