At convention, Shalala emphasizes importance of women in sports, misuse of Title IX

On the day it was announced that the University of Miami had completed a state record, seven-year $1.4 billion fundraising campaign, President Donna E. Shalala also spoke about another topic.

A group of national sportswriters assembled to listen to the university’s president speak of the “balance in investing in women’s sports,” also one day after Shalala named Kirby Hocutt the school’s new athletic director. She also noted that opportunities for women in sports ultimately lead to better chances to be competitive in other areas.

“Sports has been the glass ceiling for women,” said Shalala, the keynote lunch guest at the 21st annual Association for Women in Sports Media convention at the Grand Bay Hotel in Coconut Grove.

She credited her experience as a scrappy shortstop growing up in Cleveland with teaching her discipline.

“It is why I am so committed to all sports, not just revenue producing ones,” she said.

Shalala was introduced by Miami Herald staff writer Michelle Kaufman, one of the event’s organizers, as “Wonder Woman” for her numerous, simultaneous public campaign efforts on and off campus.

Throughout her 25-minute speech, the theme centered on addressing challenges and misconceptions athletic departments around the country have faced over the years. Chief among them was the correlation between Title IX, a law that prohibits gender discrimination in college sports, and eliminating other sports programs, a claim she called spurious. She pointed instead to the enormous costs incurred by men’s football programs.

“We’ve used Title IX as an excuse. No other country in the world does this,” she said of paying football coaches salaries that often reach into the millions. Another popular claim she dismissed as myth was the interconnectedness of school revenue streams and the football program.

Still, she said, nothing brings communities together like college football, a bonding that extends in helping with identification of institutions.

“I’m also a professor of political science; I know the value of symbolism,” Shalala said. “It is an integral part of our ability to build great institutions.

Shalala also revealed that she had made great efforts in recruiting women to interview for the athletic director opening, only to find few candidates willing to risk positions they already held.

Shalala, the only U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services in history to serve two full terms, said her advice for students was to be the best they can be, saying that over the years her philosophies and outlooks have evolved to make her more humble.

And as for students who think they have the world figured out by 21, she simply said, “You don’t.”

Krishen Rangi may be contacted at