At a glance, it seemed odd that Don Fehr, the long-time leader of the Major League Baseball Players Association would be introducing Donna Lopiano Ph.D. for the Sports Lawyers Association’s highest honor at the SLA conference in San Francisco last month.
But after a few words from the gifted orator, it became obvious why he was up there. Like him or not, Fehr has always been a leader for the masses. So, too, has Lopiano, the former executive director of the Women’s Sports Foundation and a relentless champion of gender equity.
“No one has had a greater impact on sports over the length of their career than Donna Lopiano,” said Fehr, as he stepped away from the podium.
Lopiano, who became one of the nation’s first female athletic directors more than 30 years ago at the University of Texas, began her acceptance speech by telling a story from her youth.
“My life dream was to pitch for the New York Yankees,” she said. “So in 1956 I tried out for Little League Baseball. I was the first one drafted. As I stood in line to get my uniform, a dad came up to me and pointed to page 14 of the manual, where it said: ‘No girls allowed.’ That was the defining moment of my life.”
Far from a male-basher, however, Lopiano went on to point out that one of the biggest drivers in the acceptance of laws like Title IX has been male parents. “This has been a dad-led fight for gender equity,” said Lopiano. “When they realized their daughters had the desire and right to compete on the playing field, they started viewing their daughters in a lot of ways as a surrogate son.”
Lopiano added that she expects the push for gender equity to only intensify as more open-minded males recognize the opportunities that their daughters have.
She added that the courts have been genuinely sympathetic to Title IX, noting that she is batting 100 percent as an expert witness. She hopes that record of success carries over as a consultant with the launch of her new company – Sports Management Resources (www.sportsmanagementresources.com).
Either way, Lopiano realizes the movement has taken a life of its own in recent years.
“What till you see the progress that is made over the next ten years,” she said, finally appreciating the fruits of three decades of hard work.