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Urban vs. Suburban female ball players

Interesting piece in today’s New York Times about the discrepancy between the number of suburban girls (50 percent) who play sports versus the number of urban girls (36 percent) who do:

In the suburbs, girls’ participation in sports is so commonplace that in many communities, the conversation has shifted from concerns over equal access to worries that some girls are playing too much. But the revolution in girls’ sports has largely bypassed the nation’s cities, where public school districts short on money often view sports as a luxury rather than an entitlement.

Coaches and organizers of youth sports in cities say that while many immigrant and lower-income parents see the benefit of sports for sons, they often lean on daughters to fill needs in their own hectic lives, like tending to siblings or cleaning the house.

Others, like Tiffany’s father, Gavin Binning, are worried for their daughter’s safety, another roadblock to playing.

The story is OK, but it’s not as simple as babysitting and safety issues.

There are those players – mostly Hispanic – who get stuck with childcare duties. But it’s not that often, and it’s not enough to keep a girl off a team. There have been times in the neighborhood where I teach that gangs are warring and parents are concerned about their daughters. So we let them out of practice in time to get home before it gets dark, and/or give them a ride there ourselves. (A common practice of coaches in urban schools, at least here in Los Angeles).

What the New York Times writer left out was that inner cities are full of gangs that lure kids in with enticements: acceptance, cameraderie, excitement, and distraction from a sometimes otherwise miserable existence. A stunningly large percentage of students in certain inner city schools are, at the very least, affiliated with a gang.

Secondly, there aren’t many good role models in inner cities with regard to physical fitness or sports. Low-income neighborhoods are populated by liquor stores rather than Fresh and Easy Markets or Whole Foods.

Last fall I had my students write a response paper to an LA Times brief I read to them about how park space relates to exercise. A study had compared open space in Beverly Hills to South Los Angeles, and found that South LA residents had less parks and were more overweight than their higher-income counterparts. Several of my students wrote that everywhere they went, people smoked pot and were just sitting around, if not gang-banging. They thought those problems should be addressed before more parks were created.

For an inner city girl to regularly participate in sports, she has to be willing to go somewhat against the grain. And this is something many teen girls aren’t willing to do.

I give the New York Times props for trying to write this story, though.

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