Ed Temple and Wyomia Tyus walking_Duane Tillman_Tigerbelle
Ed Temple and Wyomia Tyus walking, photo taken by Duane Tillman, Akashic Books

What do you want to be when you grow up?

The classic question for children is supposed to evoke the innocent dreams of roles that represent the exemplary memes of the day: president, astronaut, engineer, baseball player, movie star. For Wyomia Tyus, her answer was admirable, but arguably limited:

“I wanted to be a nurse, or a teacher,” she told me. “I really didn’t know what I wanted to be, but I thought I had to say something.”

Thanks to a chance siting at a junior track meet in Fort Valley, Georgia, by the coach of the women’s track and field team of Tennessee State University, Ed Temple, Tyus could begin to dream bigger. Temple made another trip to Georgia to visit Tyus’ mother to convince her to allow her 15-year-old daughter to come to his summer training camps at TSU in Nashville, Tennessee, and train with the women’s team, the Tigerbelles. She was greeted by Temple and the world-famous Wilma Rudolph, the darling of the 1960 Rome Olympics, who sprinted to three gold medals.

Tyus didn’t know who Rudolph was, let alone what the Olympics were, so she was in for an education, not just about track, but about how to think about the rest of her life. “When I went to Tennessee State and saw these Tigerbelles, there was a woman majoring in math,” she told me. “I had never seen a woman teach math. ‘Women make money teaching math,’ I thought. ‘I want to be a doctor,’ another told me. ‘You should think about that.'”

This was the early 1960s, when women were not encouraged to dream about being anything other than the perfect wife for a good man. In an interview with Morning News Anchor Atlanta radio stations, V-103 and WAOK, Maria Boynton, Tyus explained the state of women athletes in America.

In the time I was in school  from 1963 to 1968,  there were only 8% of women going to college. I’m not talking about black women – 8% of women in the whole US of A that were in college. I feel very honored, very lucky and blessed that I had that opportunity. Today, your opportunities are a lot better, a lot greater. When I was competing, Mr. Temple would always say, “Now you have Title IX. And Title IX gave he opportunity for women to go to college, to get a scholarship at all major universities. You have the same rights that men have, that they have always had. When we were competing, we were Title IX.

Title IX is a federal civil rights law in the United States that was passed in June, 1972, which made discrimination on the basis of sex in educational institutions that received federal funding, illegal. It laid the groundwork for equal access to entry, financial assistance and opportunities for men and women in schools and universities across the country. And as schools began to invest more equitably in athletic opportunities for women, a whole generation of women in America were given the choice to participate and excel in sports. The copious number of gold medals for America in women’s soccer, softball, ice hockey, and track and field among many sports is thanks to Title IX.

But before Title IX, there were very few places that provided scholarships for women athletes. Tyus said that in the early sixties, Tuskegee University and the University of Hawaii had small women’s track programs. But only Tennessee State University was offering scholarships for women in any significant numbers. On top of that, parents were unwilling to send their daughters to universities to play sports. That idea was simply unfamiliar to most. But Coach Temple had the ways and the means to make it work, according to Tyus in her wonderful autobiography, Tigerbelle: The Wyomia Tyus Story, co-authored by Elizabeth Terzakis.

Mr. Temple was one of the few coaches who had the charisma and ability to convince parents to let their daughters run track. And once they did, he had the ability and fortitude to say to the girls, “you could be more than just a track star. This could propel you into your future. Track opened the doors for you, but education will keep them open.” He gave us a dream – something to look forward to. Most of us were coming from poor families, big families. Most of them came from families of nine, ten 0even thirteen or fourteen. Girls wanted to get out of that and make a better life for themselves, and their parents wanted the same. Mr. Temple gave them the opportunity. He saw possibilities for women way before Title IX – in fact, Mr. Temple used to say that his program was Title IX before Title IX. He had a vision, and he let us see it too.

Carla Mims, Edith McGuire, Vivian Brown and Wyomia Tyus and Ed Temple Ed Temple with, from left, Carla Mims, Edith McGuire, Vivian Brown and Wyomia Tyus at the women’s Olympic track and field tryouts on Randalls Island in New York City in 1964. Ernie Sisto/The New York Times; Mark Humphrey/Associated Press, 2015

As Temple explains in this video interview, he set very high expectations for the women on his team, in a most public way.

One of the things I stressed was education. After every quarter, I would get the grades of every girl from the registrar’s office. I’d get them in a room and call their name and go over every grade that they had. If you made a D, or a C, I’m going to talk about you in front of everybody. If you made the honor roll, I’m gonna give you credit. And after year two, that word would pass down to the new ones coming in. “Look now, you better get your schoolwork done, because he’s gonna talk about you.”

In addition to ensuring that his student athletes got a university education, he also made sure that they were supporting each other. He understood that there were so few in the country who could relate to the life of a female athlete at the time, particularly black female athletes, so he made sure they believed in the idea that united they stood, divided they fell. When a shoe company said they were sending Wilma Rudolph free running shoes, Temple made sure they sent many pairs of different sizes so others on the team could benefit. When Edith McGuire was taken around Tokyo by the press, expectant that she would be the next Wilma Rudolph in Tokyo, Temple made sure that Wyomia Tyus tagged along and saw the sights.

And he made sure that the senior students took care of the junior students, as she explained in Tigerbelle.

Mr. Temple arranged it so that there were always older girls there to support the younger girls and so that the younger girls got to be in contact with all the older girls instead of just a few. He knew that not everyone would connect in the same way, and he wanted each of us to be able to find someone we liked and could look up to who would help us.

These interactions between teammates, relationships forged in the fires of competition, led to life-long friendships, a sisterhood of Tigerbelles that continues to today.

Perhaps more than anything else, Coach Temple was a great teacher, someone who understood that the only person who could really effect significant change and growth was that person herself, as she explained powerfully in her book.

I think that Mr. Temple felt that he had done his best to prepare us for the world. He always wanted us to be our own people even if it meant bumping heads with him. If he didn’t agree, he wasn’t going to say anything, and if he did agree, he might say one thing, but not much more. Because his main question was always, “Is this what you want? Is this what you believe in?” As long as you weighed it out and thought about the consequences—what else could he ask for?

Some people felt he could have said more, tried to have more influence, but that was not the man he was. If he ever had said more, I would have listened to him, but nothing would have changed. I was still going to be saying what I said. I would say, “That’s me, Mr. Temple. You taught us to speak our minds.” Which to me meant he had been successful at doing the only thing that really mattered to him: making us feel comfortable being ourselves.

Wyomia Tyus card

Brandi Chastain Sports Illustrated Cover

It was 1999 and the two premier national teams in women’s soccer were facing off in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena California to determine the champions of the second FIFA World Cup Championship.

The United States and China were locked in a scoreless draw through regular and extra time, with victory coming down to a penalty shootout. After goaltender Briana Scurry stopped a shot in the third round, victory rested in the left foot of Brandi Chastain. And when she rocketed the ball into the upper right hand corner of the net, Chastain immediately ripped off her jersey, fell to her knees, her arms extended in ecstatic triumph, and her black Nike sports bra exposed for the entire world to see.

Lisa Lindahl was at home in Vermont when her phone rang and her friend told her to switch on the TV. Lindahl was an entrepreneur who established the market for sports bras in the late 1970s, so when she saw Chastain raise her arms in victory, she said was astonished, and proud. “It was her confidence, her preparation and her long journey that came to fruition in that moment,” said Lindahl in this 99% invisible podcast. “And that is perfect because I could say that about my journey of the jog bra.”

One of my favorite podcasts, 99% Invisible, is not about sports, but about design. And strange as it may seem today, the sports bra was non-existent before 1977. No sportswear or sports equipment manufacturer ever imagined why women would ever need a sports bra.

Dr. LaJean Lawson, who is the Sports Bra Science and Marketing Consultant to Champion Athleticwear, and has been shaping the design of the sports bra for three decades, said that the environment for women in sports when she was growing up was very different.

When I started high school we weren’t allowed to run full court because there was the assumption that girls were too weak, and we couldn’t run any races longer than 400 meters. So women participating in sports having/needing a sports bra is so recent.

The more Lawson promoted the sports bra and the idea of better fitness for women, she even got hate mail.

This letter said “If God had intended women to run he would not have put breasts on them.” There was a whole socio-cultural stereotype of how women should behave, and it wasn’t vigorously and badly. It was more calm and sweet, and how to comport yourself with more steadiness, and not the sort of enthusiasm and passion you see with sport.

But in the 1970s, circumstances were conspiring in the United States to make it easier for women to participate and compete in sports.

In the United States, a section of the United States Education Amendments of 1972, famously called “Title IX,” was created, and subsequently had a huge impact on American society. While the overall goal was to ban gender discrimination within federally funded schools and universities, encouraging greater access for women to higher education, protecting pregnant women and parenting students from being expelled, and challenging gender stereotypes about whether boys or girls were strong in a particular academic category like math and science, Title IX has had a tremendous impact on women in sports.

According to this article, “the impact of Title IX on women’s sports cannot be overstated: the NCAA says the number of female college athletes is at an all-time high, and the numbers of girls playing high school sports has swelled from fewer than 300,000 in 1974 to more than 3.1 million in 2012.”

Additionally, getting into shape and staying fit became a huge part of the American pop culture in the 1970s and 1980s. With bestselling books like The Complete Book of Running by Jim Fixx, which came out in 1977, and Jane Fonda’s Workout, published in 1981, women were running and working out more.

And the more women ran, the more obvious it became that they had a problem men did not. Here’s what Lindahl had to say about that:

My whole generation started exercising, and I had a friend introduce me to what was then called “jogging”. When you have at-shirt over bouncing nipples, you get chafing. So the answer to that is to put a bra on. Because I did try running without any bra. And then of course I got a lot of comments from passing motorists, and certain male runners. So you wear a bra and that poses problems of different sorts, like the straps that fall off your shoulders so you’re always jigging them back up, hardware can dig into your back, and they’re hot and sweaty.

One day, Lindahl’s sister, who also ran, called to ask this obvious, painfully obvious, question: “‘What do you do about your boobs? I am so uncomfortable when I’m running! Why isn’t there a jock strap for women?’ That’s when we really laughed. We thought that was hilarious.”

Jog Bra ad from 1970s 2

But Lindahl couldn’t get the idea out of her head, and started to think about the ideal bra for female runners – a bra with straps that wouldn’t fall off the shoulders and wide enough so they wouldn’t dig in. Lindahl recruited a friend, Polly Smith, who was a seamstress and costume designer. And they worked through multiple prototypes for this bra, but could not hit upon the design that made it easier for her to run. Then one day, Lindahl’s husband came down the steps with a jock strap not where it was supposed to be – over his head and across his chest – and said playfully, “Hey ladies, here’s your new jock bra!”

The three of them had a great laugh, and Lindahl thought to continue the joke by pulling the jock strap off her husband and putting it on herself….except that when Lindahl put the jock strap over her breast, she had an epiphany. “Oh!”

The next day, Lindahl went running in a contraption that featured two jock straps sewn together, and realized she had a design that would work. Lindahl, Smith and Smith’s assistant, Hinda Schreiber decided to build a business. Schreiber’s father lent them $5000, the team built a relationship with an apparel manufacturer in South Carolina, and by 1978, they were distributing the “Jog Bra.”

Despite the initial reaction of sports retailers, who thought that the jog bra should go in a lingerie department and not in a sporting goods store, sales of the $16 bra took off. Jog Bra had annual sale increases of 25%, and created an entirely new market. More importantly, it enabled women to enjoy their sporting activities more fully and freely, whether it was taking part in a Jane Fonda workout, playing point guard on a high school basketball team, or running a marathon. The sports bra that Lindahl, Smith and Schreiber created liberated a whole generation of women athletes.

That feeling of liberation came to fruition that moment Brandi Chastain ripper off her jersey in 1999. But that vision was in Lindahl’s head in 1977.

It should be modest enough I could take off my t-shirt on really hot summer days because I had a running partner who would do that. He would take off his shirt in the middle of his run, pull it over his head and tuck it in the back of his shorts. I was so jealous because I couldn’t do that.

Today, millions of women can and do, thanks to the Jog Bra. Happy 40th!

GATORADE NATIONAL GIRLS TRACK & FIELD 2
Candace Hill, of Rockdale County High School, after being named the Gatorade National Girls Track & Field Athlete of the Year, Thursday, June 25, 2015 in Conyers, GA.Photo/Gatorade, Susan Goldman, handout.

Candace Hill is one of the fastest women in the world. And she’s turned pro. At the age of 16.

She’ll be running in Rio, and she’ll be likely making a very, very good living along the way.

“Skipping college is attractive for three reasons: money, fame and momentum,” the sprinter from Georgia was quoted as saying in this New York Times article.

Candace Hill running

Call her arrogant. Call her the embodiment of the American dream. With the third best time ever in the 100 meters for women under 20 years old (10.98 seconds), she is not only the youngest woman to turn pro in track and field in America, she is the youngest person man or woman.

You would never have seen a woman like Hill over 40 years ago, before Title IX.

Title IX (nine) is part of the United States Education Amendments of 1972, a law that states “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

Barbara Winslow in the Journal of the Gilder Lehrman Institute stated the situation this way:

It’s hard to imagine that just forty years ago, young women were not admitted into many colleges and universities, athletic scholarships were rare, and math and science was a realm reserved for boys. Girls square danced instead of playing sports, studied home economics instead of training for “male-oriented” (read: higher-paying) trades. Girls could become teachers and nurses, but not doctors or principals; women rarely were awarded tenure and even more rarely appointed college presidents. There was no such thing as sexual harassment because “boys will be boys,” after all, and if a student got pregnant, her formal education ended. Graduate professional schools openly discriminated against women.

Today a generation or two of women have grown up in a culture that has encouraged women to all the pursuits that men had previously enjoyed. Thanks to Title IX, educational systems had to begin investing in girls and womens’ teams, which resulted in the popularity for women’s team sports like soccer, basketball, and baseball. Mo’ne Davis, who was the first girl to earn a win and pitch a shutout in a Little League World Series