As part of Sportico’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Title IX, which includes Wednesday’s WX3 conference, JohnWallStreet is featuring leading voices in women’s sports each day this week. Today: Candace Parker of the Chicago Sky answers questions from Sportico reporter Emily Caron.
Candace Parker’s basketball career started in the Chicago suburbs and blossomed at the University of Tennessee—where the 6-foot-4 forward played for the late Pat Summitt from 2004 until she departed for the WNBA as the No. 1 draft pick in 2008. And while her time in Knoxville came three decades after Title IX was signed into law, equity was—and still is—elusive in college athletics. Parker spoke with Sportico’s Emily Caron about her career through the lens of Title IX.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Sportico: When you think about Title IX in college athletics, and then look at the landscape today, where did the legislation succeed and where did it fall short?
Parker: I think that there has been enormous progress. If you look at even just representation within sports, from where it was in 1972, compared to where it was in 1990, compared to what it is now. Going deeper into facilities, travel, all of those things, those need to improve. And if you get particular in looking at leveling the playing field, people of color have been left behind within the NCAA and within Title IX. It has definitely created more opportunities but there’s so, so much more we need to do in the next 50 years. And one of those is to be less reactive and more proactive. A lot of Title IX is responses to stuff that happens that shouldn’t happen to begin with.
Sportico: You alluded to the Title IX infractions and violations that surface at a number of colleges and high-profile institutions. Does that surprise you that we are 50 years out and we’re still seeing schools fail to actually implement Title IX?
Parker: I think that speaks to just how much further we have to go. And we’re just thinking about colleges, we’re not even talking about high school or junior high. There’s a grassroots level that lays the foundation of the belief that you are deserving and that you are equal. And we’re failing young girls even [there]. Something as simple as [the boys] get the new uniforms, you get less. The practice times, the facilities, weight room access—there are so many things that are doing more than just breaking Title IX rules, you’re instilling the belief that because they are a boy, and you are a girl, you’re less than.
Sportico: Was that what your experience at the grassroots level was like?
Parker: I grew up with two older brothers, but my parents told me that I could do and be anything. And I think because of what was instilled in me, not having the fancy uniforms didn’t make me feel like I was less than a boy. I wanted to show them we’re still going to be undefeated or we’re still going to win the city championship. But I always saw it, whether it was in travel, or when I got to college and you saw it in stipends or the size of the [national championship] ring. You see it in the representation and marketing—the billboards outside of the arena are football even though we won eight national championships.
Sportico: You mentioned a bit about your experience when you got to college—how consciously were you thinking about Title IX or equality during those years?
Parker: I played under coach Summitt, so I don’t think any stone was left unturned in terms of equality and her fight, which thus became my fight. When I was at Tennessee we had separate athletic departments. We were one of two schools at the time, Tennessee and Texas, who had a female athletic department led by a female athletic director. We flew charter, but in terms of practice facilities and things like that, Pat wasn’t going to let us not get what we should. And if that was the case, then we were to bring that to her attention. But we saw the differences in outside things we couldn’t control in terms of marketing, the visibility and the media coverage, the way in which they discussed the women’s game.
Sportico: If you fast forward to your professional career and the opportunities that awaited you post-grad, how much of that do you attribute to Title IX?
Parker: I would not be sitting here today without Title IX. And I thank those that paved the way for me and provided me with the opportunity for the world to even look at me and say that I could be not just a player but a broadcaster. That I could sit there and speak about sports. Sometimes it does just take one business, one company, one organization, taking a chance, and really believing in the diversity of thought and diversity of representation. I think that’s what Title IX is trying to accomplish: a universal understanding that diversity and differences are important, crucial and vital.
Sportico: Title IX forced the growth of college women’s sports, and, in basketball in particular, that’s now impacting a league like the WNBA. How does a league like the W keep up with the aftermath of Title IX?
Parker: The WNBA exists because of Title IX. It’s a professional league, and it’s not a federally funded institution, but a lot of its players attended a federally funded university and had the opportunity to pursue their sport as a result of its enactment. There’s an entire generation [of athletes] born from Title IX. But it doesn’t mean that we’re where we want to be. I think the WNBA will continue to grow with [the women’s college game], but as we do that, we have to acknowledge those that fought the battles for us to get us here and we have to look at the other battles and all of the Title IX work left to do, and figure out how we navigate that. And we’re just talking about athlete representation within those universities, we haven’t even scratched the surface on the inclusion of women as coaches and as broadcasters. To my knowledge, there are very few, if any, women coaches on the NCAA men’s side. We have to keep creating opportunities.
Sportico: What do you hope is the most different for your daughter’s generation than it was for you?
Parker: I hope that this generation, because of social media, continues to be bold in not accepting being treated in a way that they shouldn’t be. I go back to Sedona [Prince] and that video of the weight room [at the 2021 NCAA tournament]. Everybody in women’s basketball knew that was how it has always been. People being appalled by it made us really realize that there are so many people out there who don’t realize the inequities within sports and within college particularly that we need to bring to light. I hope they continue to be the people that shine a light on things so other people don’t have to experience them. It’s my job, too, to make the world better for my daughter so that she doesn’t have to experience some of these things. But this generation is bold.
One of the most decorated women’s basketball players of all time, two-time Olympic gold medalist Candace Parker was voted the 2021 AP Female Athlete of the Year after leading the Chicago Sky to the WNBA title, and is a broadcast analyst for Turner.