The Golden Age

Former Fillies center Tonyus Chavers watches from the sidelines as women's pro basketball hits the jackpot

Even within sports, change doesn't come as fast and sure as those World Cup cheerleaders let on. The hype about Title IX obscures the fact that, 27 years since its imposition, the college that meets its standard for sports-gender equity is a rare and wonderful thing. A 1992 study of 646 U.S. colleges found exactly one school in compliance. So far in 1999, Sports Illustrated has given women's pro basketball less coverage than it did in 1980. More disturbing, male sportswriters wrote about the World Cup's popularity by disparaging WNBA attendance--as if there can be only one successful women's sport. (For the record, for every six matchups among the WNBA's 12 teams, the league is attracting more than 58,000 fans. It's not 90,000, but it's not the World Cup Final, either.)

Finally, Nelson's propaganda notwithstanding, competitive sports are not for everybody. All the encouragement my friends, family, and coach could muster couldn't get me out for the cross-country team--and I still managed to fashion a self that plays well with others. Pressure to do sports can be just as pernicious as pressure not to. And what happened to feminist concerns about sports--the obsession with winning, the humiliation of the awkward, the screaming coaches and parents?

Such reservations could never dent Chavers's enthusiasm for women's athletics. After high school, she says, she just kicked around for a couple of years. Then a friend urged her to head over to Tennessee's LeMoyne-Owen College, where a women's basketball team was being organized. She did, and the impressed coach offered her a full ride (the long arm of Title IX). "Meanwhile," she recalls, "in my foolishness at 19, I got involved with the wrong crowd and almost went to the penitentiary for fraud." Her coach intervened with the judge on her case, and he sentenced her to go to college and play ball. "Judge Williams, I'll never forget him," Chavers swears. "I look at this, and I'm like, dang! If I'd gone [to jail] at 19, 29 years old coming out, my life would be totally different from what it is now. I definitely wouldn't be a teacher!" She smiles. "I owe my life to this game. I do."

Chavers: "I owe my life to this game"
Diana Watters
Chavers: "I owe my life to this game"

Chavers turns again to the contest at hand, which is building toward a goose-pimpling finish, with the Lynx barely holding on. Inside the paint the "big girls," as Chavers calls them, are pushing for position. After Monarch Griffith forces in a shot, she shoulders brusquely into a Lynx player on her way up the court. "That was cheap." Chavers laughs broadly. "It's all in the game."

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