Corrine Brown

Recognition of The ABL And The WNBA - June 17, 1997

Corrine Brown
June 17, 1997— U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC
Congressional floor speech
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Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak about a bill that I will be offering later this week that honors the beginning of two new women's professional basketball leagues: the American Basketball League and the Women's National Basketball Association, also known as the ABL and the WNBA. Historically, women's basketball has come a long way. Even though the first national women's basketball tournament took place in 1926, college educators opposed basketball for women. They believed that women were not adequately prepared for such a rough game and that the game of basketball was not an appropriate sport for women.

The stereotype of women's inability to play basketball carried into the second half of the century. By the 1970's, only 1 out of every 27 women participated in any kind of high school sports. It was not until 1972, with the passing of title IX to the Higher Education Act, when women's participation in basketball began to increase. It was this amendment that guaranteed the success of women's sports and created a fair, level playing field for sports equity.

Now in 1997, it is the 25th anniversary of title 9 of the Higher Education Act. One out of every three high school girls participate in a sport. And basketball is recognized by girls as the most popular youth participant sport in the Nation. In college, participation and attendance at the women's basketball games have been at the highest ever. Since 1982, women's attendance at National Collegiate Athletic Association sports events have steadily increased from 1.1 million to 4.2 million.

Because the female student-athlete participation rate is at its highest ever, there were more women's basketball teams sponsored by NCAA institutions than men's basketball teams in the 1995-96 season. In fact, 97 percent of the NCAA active institutions sponsored a women's basketball program, making it the most sponsored NCAA sport during the 1995-96 season.

Women's basketball is also gaining ground in the media. In 1997, the Women's Division One NCAA Basketball Championship was the highest rated and most watched basketball event in cable television history.

In general, women's college athletes have improved greatly. Women's athletic programs at NCAA member schools have increased in participation, scholarship dollars, coaches' salaries, and recruiting expenditures over the past 5 years. As a result, the average number of women athletes per school in the NCAA Division One increased from 112 to 130 over the past 5 years.

Internationally, women's basketball has also become very popular. Many people may not realize it, but 80 million women play basketball worldwide. Let me repeat that; 80 million women play basketball worldwide, an amazing figure.

Last year, I saw firsthand how talented some of those women are when I attended one of the Team USA women's basketball games at the Olympics in Atlanta. It was very exciting and wonderful to see such a large crowd at this event. The USA female basketball team went on to win the gold medal. It is obvious that American women are the best players in the world.

The success of women's sports has proved that America is ready for women's professional basketball. We have built a generation of talented players who can compete internationally, and now it is time to showcase this talent here in our own country. These leagues will offer role models to younger women and promote greater chances for female athletes, continuing the tradition of gender equity in sports, first promoted through title IX.

This Saturday the WNBA will begin its first season, while the ABL is gearing up for a second successful season in the fall. As a Member of Congress, we should honor these professional women athletes and support them. As we congratulate the ABL and the WNBA on their inaugural season, we should also recognize the sponsors, owners, and fans of the leagues' teams for their commitment.

Mr. Speaker, it is my hope that Members of both parties will sign on as original cosponsors to my bill and pass this resolution in the near future.

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