The groundbreaking gender equity law made a lasting impact by increasing the participation of girls and women in athletics.
Title IX, the landmark gender equity law passed as part of the Education Amendments of 1972, banned sex discrimination in federally funded education programs. Its protections would open doors for girls and women in admission, academic majors, teaching positions, vocational programs and individual classes, and help ensure equal access and treatment once they got in.
“This was during a time where there were a lot of barriers for women to progress or succeed in society,” says Karen Hartman, an associate professor at Idaho State University who has studied Title IX extensively. “The Educational Amendments Act, and specifically Title IX, was attempting to address some of those wrongs and provide more opportunities.”
Yet despite its broad aims and applications, Title IX is most famous for its impact on expanding opportunities for women and girls in sports. In 1972, there were just over 300,000 women and girls playing college and high school sports in the United States. Female athletes received 2 percent of college athletic budgets, while athletic scholarships for women were virtually nonexistent.
By 2012, the 40th anniversary of Title IX’s passage, the number of girls participating in high school sports nationwide had risen tenfold, to more than 3 million. More than 190,000 women were competing in intercollegiate sports—six times as many as in 1972. By 2016, one in every five girls in the United States played sports, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation. Before passage of Title IX, that number had been one in 27.
“There used to be a way to view women’s sports [as] lesser than,” Hartman says. “But if you watch women’s sports today, their competitive level with men is oftentimes on a similar playing field. We’re seeing athleticism like we’ve never seen before.”
The Civil Right Act and Sex Discrimination in Education
The roots of Title IX go back to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin—but made no mention of discrimination based on sex. Women were included in the Civil Rights Act only in Title VII, an amendment that addressed equal employment opportunity but did not apply to educational institutions, among other areas.
By the early 1970s, girls and women continued to face discrimination and unequal treatment in many areas of education. Female students were often barred from certain male-only courses or fields of study, including everything from wood shop and calculus to criminal justice, law and medicine. Some U.S. colleges and universities refused to allow women to attend, or established quotas that limited the number of female students regardless of how qualified they were compared to male applicants. Others denied tenure to female professors, or refused to hire them at all.
Passage of Title IX and Its Impact on Sports
In 1972, President Richard Nixon signed Title IX into law. Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana, who helped guide the bill through Congress, called it “an important first step in the effort to provide for the women of America something that is rightfully theirs.”
By the time compliance with Title IX became mandatory in 1978, the law had already made an impact on sports. In a cover story that June, TIME reported that six times as many high school girls were participating in competitive high school sports than in 1970.
“Participation rates for women have exploded every single year since Title IX was passed in 1972,” Hartman says. “We see not only how sport has become more culturally acceptable for women to participate in, but how they also have increased their competitiveness.”
The law’s far-reaching impact could be seen at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where American women dominated sports from gymnastics to basketball to swimming. That year saw the largest contingent of U.S. female Olympians in history, with a total of 292 women and 263 men. Back in 1972, only 90 women had joined the U.S. Olympic team of 428 athletes.
“It’s kind of like ‘if you build it, they will come,’” Hartman says. “If you give opportunities, then you see how competitive and athletic all bodies can be, no matter if they’re men or women.”
Controversy Over the Law
Organizations like the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) have challenged Title IX’s legality, while others have argued that it should apply only to educational programs that directly receive federal funds.
In 1984, the Supreme Court agreed with this interpretation in Grove City v. Bell, effectively removing Title IX coverage of athletics except for athletic scholarships. Passage of the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987 (over President Ronald Reagan’s veto) reversed that decision, and reinstituted Title IX’s broad coverage for any educational institution receiving any federal funds.
The 1990s and beyond have seen continued legal challenges to Title IX, as well as a number of lawsuits alleging the violation of its protections. “Over the decades since it’s been passed, legal cases have tried to give more guidance for Title IX, and the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights created compliance elements for it,” Hartman says. “That path over 50 years has been bumpy….[and today] up to 80 percent of higher education institutions are still out of compliance.”
According to Hartman, controversy over Title IX often centers on misunderstandings of the law, such as the mistaken belief that it requires quotas, or the idea that has caused a decline in men’s sports. In fact, she says, participation rates for male athletes have increased consistently since Title IX’s passage. A special report issued for Title IX’s 40th anniversary in 2012 found that NCAA member institutions saw a net gain of nearly 1,000 men’s sports teams from 1988-2011.
In 2021, as part of a wave of lawsuits filed after U.S. colleges cut athletic programs due to financial pressures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Clemson University men’s track and field and cross-country teams won a historic settlement for their claim of discrimination based on Title IX. As there were nearly an equal number of men and women athletes participating in sports at Clemson in 2019-20, the plaintiffs argued, the cuts meant the university was no longer providing an equitable number of opportunities under the law.
Hartman believes the case provides further evidence that Title IX—while its ultimate promise may remain unfulfilled—continues to make progress. “That’s the heart of a great anti-discrimination law,” Hartman says. “Something that’s going to bring men and women [together] to make sure there is equity.”
From race-fixing and horse switches to performance-enhancing drugs, some will do whatever it takes to see their horse cross the finish line first.
Horse racing has been called the “Sport of Kings,” and, just like royalty, racing has a scandal-filled history. Some misconduct has been about manipulating races, whether by influencing jockeys or the recurring phenomenon of horse switching. While attention has also fallen on the treatment of racehorses, including the use of performance-enhancing and pain-masking drugs. Here are 10 horse racing scandals that made headlines in recent years:
1968: The Kentucky Derby winner tests positive for phenylbutazone
On May 4, 1968, Dancer’s Image had a thrilling win at the Kentucky Derby, surging from last to first across the finish line. Soon afterward, the stallion tested positive for phenylbutazone, an anti-inflammatory. The drug was not allowed to be present on race day at the Derby, though use was permitted at other times for pain-alleviation, so Dancer’s Image’s win was erased. Owner Peter Fuller contested the disqualification in court for years, spending more than the $122,000 prize money, but was ultimately unsuccessful.
In the early 1970s, Anthony Ciulla, known as “Big Tony,” bribed jockeys in hundreds of races. They would usually be told to slow their horses so they didn’t finish in the top three, thus ensuring that less favored horses won and delivered big payouts. Ciulla once declared he’d been a fixer in all states with horse racing except California.
In a race at Atlantic City in 1975, the jockey Ciulla had influenced was too obvious about reining in his horse. When asked why, he revealed Ciulla’s involvement. While Ciulla was behind bars, the FBI offered a deal: His sentence would be shortened if he helped with an ongoing federal investigation into horse racing. Ciulla ended up testifying against the jockeys and trainers who’d fixed races for him before being granted entry into the Witness Protection Program.
1974: A millionaire attempts to swap horses
In 1974, Tony Murphy, an Irish millionaire with a passion for horse racing, attempted to pull off a horse racing bait and switch. He arranged for an unknown horse, who he referred to as winning horse Gay Future, to be trained by Antony Collins in the United Kingdom. In reality, the horse was actually a similar-looking imposter to the real Gay Future. Because the horse didn’t appear promising and it decreased the odds of him winning an upcoming August 26 race in Cartmel. However, before the race, the real Gay Future was brought to England from Ireland to be swapped in secret. And in an attempt not to alert bookmakers, Murphy entered two other Collins-trained horses, though he never planned on actually having them race.
On race day, conveniently the same day as nine other larger races, the two other horses were officially pulled from competition, leaving Gay Future and one other horse left. To deter those at the racecourse from betting on Gay Future and therefore increasing his winning odds, his legs were covered with soap to make him appear sweaty. Of course, Gay Future won. However, the scheme fell apart when a reporter learned that the other horses hadn’t even traveled to their racecourses. Murphy and Collins were convicted of attempted fraud but did not go to prison.
1977: A doctor fakes a horse’s death
Dr. Mark Gerard, a veterinarian who’d taken care of Secretariat when that horse won the Triple Crown in 1973, served as the agent to import two horses—Cinzano and Lebon—from Uruguay to the United States in June 1977. Cinzano had been Uruguay’s Horse of the Year in 1976, while Lebon was nowhere near that level. After the horses’ arrival at Gerard’s farm, Cinzano’s accidental death was recorded.
At New York’s Belmont Park on September 23, 1977, Lebon defied the odds to win his race, earning Gerard $80,000. But soon an Uruguayan journalist notified the New York Jockey Club that the winning Lebon was actually Cinzano—the two horses looked similar, but the white stars on their foreheads were different. Their identities had been switched, and Gerard served time behind bars for the scheme.
1983: Winning racehorse Shergar is abducted
Shergar was a famous racehorse who won the Epsom Derby by the largest margin in race history. He won other races, including the Irish Derby, before his retirement in 1981 to work as a stud in Ireland. On February 8, 1983, masked gunmen came to Shergar’s farm, forced a groom to load up the horse, and drove away. It took time for the police to be contacted, lowering the chances of tracing Shergar.
A $3 million demand for ransom came, but Shergar’s owners—the Aga Khan and other shareholders—decided not to pay, leery of future abductions. There have been suggestions the crime was committed by the mafia or Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, but the most accepted theory is that the stallion was taken and killed by the IRA in a botched attempt to fund the group. Shergar’s remains have never been discovered.
1984: Bold Personality is spray painted to look like Dashing Solitaire
Fine Cotton was not a successful Australian racehorse when he was purchased by bloodstock agent John Gillespie. Gillespie also acquired Dashing Solitaire, a better racer who resembled Fine Cotton. The plan was simple: run Dashing Solitaire in Fine Cotton’s place at a race on August 18, 1984. The scheme went off the rails when Dashing Solitaire was injured in a kangaroo-related incident and left unable to run.
Instead of giving up, Gillespie and conspirators decided to run another horse, Bold Personality, whose color and markings were nothing like Dashing Solitaire and Fine Cotton. To address this, Gillespie’s gang used hair dye, which turned the horse orange. The dye was rinsed off, then spray paint was applied to mimic Fine Cotton’s white socks. The horse ran, and won—but the subterfuge was quickly discovered, in part because paint was dripping down the horse’s legs. Gillespie and his trainer ended up serving time.
2002: Three fraternity brothers rig the betting system at the Breeders’ Cup
After the Breeders’ Cup race on October 26, 2002, Derrick Davis had winning Pick Six tickets—in which bettors try to select the winners in six consecutive races—and won more than $3 million. Yet the circumstances of his success seemed suspicious: Davis was the only person with winning Pick Six tickets, had selected two long-shot winners and had made the unusual choice to pick winners in the first four races while selecting all horses to win in the last two races.
An investigation discovered that Chris Harn, one of Davis’ fraternity brothers, was a senior computer programmer at Autotote, which handled the telephone betting service that Davis used. Harn had been able to make changes in Autotote’s system after the first four races had been run, which let him select the winners for Davis’ tickets. Harn had also rigged bets with another fraternity brother, Glen DaSilva. DaSilva, Davis and Harn all received prison sentences ranging from one year to 37 months.
2019: 30 horses die within a six-month period at a California racetrack
During California racetrack Santa Anita Park’s December 2018 to June 2019 season, 30 horses died, with 23 of these deaths occurring by the end of March. The losses resulted in public outcry, increased attention on the conditions and treatment of racehorses and official inquiries. The track temporarily shut down, then decided to phase in a ban of Lasix, which is used to prevent bleeding in horses’ lungs. As a diuretic, it also makes horses lose weight before a race.
There was speculation that the dirt track’s conditions, perhaps affected by heavy rains, had caused the deaths, but tests showed nothing was amiss. Though the California Horse Racing Board’s inquiry discovered problems, such as trainers feeling pressured to have horses run and poor record-keeping, illegal drugs and procedures were not found responsible for the deaths.
2020: Twenty-seven people are indicted for horse doping
In March 2020, U.S. federal prosecutors indicted 27 trainers, veterinarians and drug distributors. The charges alleged the use of “drugs designed to secretly and dangerously enhance the racing performance of horses beyond their natural ability, a dishonest practice that places the lives of affected animals at risk.” Some of the drugs used were referred to as “red acid,” “bleeder” and “frozen pain.” A veterinarian was accused of distributing cobra venom as a painkiller.
Among the indictees were top-level trainers. These included Jason Servis, who trained Maximum Security. Maximum Security had crossed the finish line first at the Kentucky Derby in 2019, but was disqualified for interference, and had won $10 million in the Saudi Cup on February 29, 2020. Jorge Navarro, trainer for XY Jet, was also indicted. XY Jet received $1.5 million at the Dubai Golden Shaheen in 2019 but supposedly died from a heart attack in January 2020.
2021: Kentucky Derby winner fails drug test
On May 1, 2021, Medina Spirit won the Kentucky Derby. He then made headlines for failing a drug test after the race; the level of betamethasone, an anti-inflammatory, in his system violated Kentucky’s medication protocols. The failed test also brought negative attention to Medina Spirit’s trainer, Bob Baffert. Baffert’s horses have failed 30 drug tests over 40 years, with Medina Spirit becoming the fifth horse to do so in the past year.
The situation highlights the importance of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, which will institute national standards for drugs and medication, along with testing and enforcement measures, when it takes effect on July 1, 2022.
During a time when fear and stigma around AIDS and LGBTQ identity were pervasive, Louganis kept his diagnosis secret until years later.
Greg Louganis knew something was off as soon as his feet left the springboard. It was September 19, 1988, and the U.S. diver who had won two golds at the previous Olympics, was competing in the preliminaries at the Seoul Olympic Games. He later recounted to ABC’s Barbara Walters that he knew it “was going to be close because I could feel it in my own body. What I was concerned about was hitting my hands, so I came out wide so that the board would go by, and I wouldn’t hit it. I started coming out of the dive and I heard this big hollow thud…”
That “big hollow thud” was the back of Louganis’ head, which collided with the springboard after his body had spun in two and a half somersaults and then unfolded to meet the water. After a doctor applied four stitches to his wound, Louganis was able to return to the diving board and finish the round in third place. He then went on to win the gold medal and become the first man to win back-to-back Olympic golds in both the springboard and platform diving events.
But what had initially appeared to be a straightforward comeback story became more complicated when Louganis revealed seven years later that he was gay and that he had been diagnosed with HIV six months before the 1988 Games.
Some criticized the fact that Louganis hadn’t revealed his diagnosis at the time. “I think Greg had the right to not tell anyone that he was HIV-positive, but (he should) be honest and fair with the doctor who treated him. The doctor was in jeopardy. He should have told him,” U.S. Olympian Wendy Lucero, who competed in the springboard competition following the men’s event in Seoul, told the Los Angeles Times after Louganis’ 1995 interview.
Louganis himself said he was immediately concerned, telling Walters in 1995 that as soon as he realized he’d struck his head, “I didn’t know if I was cut or not, but I just wanted to hold the blood in and just not [let] anybody touch it.”
But this was 1988, during a time when attitudes toward HIV/AIDS—and LGBTQ identity—often veered into hostility.
1980s: AIDS and LGTBQ Stigma
“First of all, the concept of ‘LGBTQ’ didn’t even exist yet in 1988,” explains Jennifer Brier, author of Infectious Ideas: U.S. Political Response to the AIDS Crisis and director of Gender and Women’s Studies and History at the University of Illinois, Chicago. “1988 is before the reclamation of the word ‘queer,’ so there wouldn’t have even been an acronym LGBTQ in 1988.”
She adds that “in 1988, there’s an assumption that Olympians are just not gay . . . and in the cultural imagination at that point, people with HIV aren’t gold medal winners—they’re dying.”
By the late 1980s, the country was in a deep state of fear around a disease that had recently reached epidemic proportions. The disease that became known as AIDS had only been first described by the Centers for Disease Control in a U.S. medical journal in 1981. In 1982, TheNew York Times published its first front-page story about AIDS. And it wasn’t until September 1985 that President Ronald Reagan even publicly mentioned the word AIDS. By then the disease had become a public health crisis.
In 1986, C. Everett Koop, the U.S. surgeon general under President Reagan, oversaw the mailing of an AIDS information pamphlet to every American, detailing everything scientists understood up to that point about the disease. But there was still no effective treatment, people were dying by the thousands and many Americans wrongly believed it was only a “gay man’s disease.” By 1988, HIV/AIDS had already infected 82,362 individuals and killed 61,816, according to The Foundation for AIDS Research.
“It’s not like Greg Louganis was acting in a vacuum,” says Brier. “There’s no way to understand his decision to keep that a secret as something about just him. The political culture, the social and health landscape was really scary.”
Fear and stigma around AIDS was so intense, in fact, that a year before Louganis’s fateful dive, residents in the town of Arcadia, Florida tried to bar three young brothers, Randy, Robert and Ricky Ray, from enrolling in the local school because they were HIV positive. The brothers had contracted HIV from blood transfusions at a young age and residents feared they could infect other students. A federal judge overruled the ban in 1987, but then the family lost their home in a suspicious fire and decided to move away.
When Diagnosis Was a ‘Death Sentence’
The same year, American pianist Liberace died of AIDS, but his doctor initially covered up the fact that the musician had AIDS and instead told the public that he had died from cardiac arrest. “Stigma around AIDS was so strong that it was even there after death,” says Ronald O. Valdiserri, an AIDS expert and epidemiologist at Emory University who led HIV/STD prevention at the Centers for Disease Control during the 1980s.
“There was also a sense of futility,” Valdiserri adds. “Most people who were infected with HIV at the time assumed that the infection would kill them.”
Louganis also thought his diagnosis was “a death sentence,” telling ESPN in 2016, “I was like, ‘Well, I’m going to pack my bags and go home and lock myself in my house and wait to die.’”
Louganis’ coach, Ron O’Brien, knew of Louganis’ diagnosis, but believed if the Olympic Committee knew an athlete had HIV, he would not be allowed to compete. O’Brien also believed the nature of diving posed no risk to other athletes. After the accident, Louganis was “stunned” and unsure about what to do.
“This had been an incredibly guarded secret,” Louganis explained to Walters. “You could throw the entire competition into a state of alarm.” Louganis and his coach decided that his accident posed no risk to others. The greatest concern, Louganis said, was when an Olympic doctor stitched up Louganis’ wounds without wearing gloves. But that doctor, James Puffer, later told the New York Times that he wasn’t concerned, since studies had shown that transmission was extremely rare, even in the contact sport of football.
Thanks to the help of effective drugs and treatment, and to advances in LGTBQ rights, a few decades later, Louganis was healthy with undetectable HIV levels and his outlook was transformed. “It’s unbelievable,” he told Time in 2015, “I never dreamed this day would be possible.”
As for the 1988 accident, Louganis said he believes the attention he drew during the accident and then following his 1995 revelation may have—at some level—helped advance Americans’ acceptance of those with HIV.
As he told Walters in 1995, “Some people don’t think that AIDS has touched their lives. A lot of people saw me at the Olympics and were cheering for me. So all of those people can’t say that they have not been affected by AIDS.”
The African American track star hardly derailed Nazi plans for global disruption, but Jesse Owens did emerge as the standout figure of the Fuhrer’s signature Olympic Games.
In 1933, shortly after assuming power as chancellor of Germany, Adolf Hitler moved forward with plans to turn the 1936 Summer and Winter Olympics into showcases for his regime. He ordered the construction of a massive new stadium in Berlin and channeled funds toward the completion of an airport to welcome international visitors.
Additionally, the Summer Games were meant to be the first to reach audiences around the world via television, as well as the first to feature the now-traditional element of the Olympic torch relay.
Of course, while the Olympics are ostensibly designed to bring a multitude of races and cultures together in a spectacle of competition, the Fuhrer had little use for such notions of unification. In fact, he deliberately hurt his country’s chances for success by keeping Jews out of athletic clubs and events, eliminating potential Olympic medalists like high-jumper Gretel Bergmann.
Hitler saw African American track stars as a threat
Meanwhile, Jesse Owens had emerged as a track and field sensation in the States. He tied the world record in the 100-yard dash while still in high school, and his performance at the 1935 Big Ten Championships, in which he established three world records and matched a fourth over a span of 45 minutes, remains one of the most extraordinary accomplishments in collegiate sports history.
He wasn’t the only African American athlete making waves. Ralph Metcalfe was a silver medalist at the 1932 Olympics and at one point shared the world record in the 100-meter dash.
And a Temple University sprinter named Eulace Peacock emerged as a highly formidable opponent to Owens, even beating him multiple times in head-to-head competition in 1935, before suffering a hamstring injury that squashed his 1936 Olympic hopes.
The United States almost boycotted the 1936 Olympics
Owens nearly didn’t get the chance to make Olympic history. With American decision-makers aware of Hitler’s discriminatory policies against Jews – but not yet aware of the scope of the horrors to come – a fierce debate raged about whether to boycott the 1936 games.
Amateur Athletic Union president Jeremiah Mahoney argued that participation amounted to support of the Third Reich, but he was outdone by the American Olympic Committee head Avery Brundage, who insisted that the Games were for the athletes and not the politicians.
Like other elite Black athletes who grew up in an unequal society, Owens considered the moral stance against Germany to be hypocritical and wasn’t inclined to surrender the chance to shine on a global stage. He eventually expressed his desire to compete in the Games, a position that drew the condemnation of African American publications and NAACP head Walter White.
Owens became the first American to win four gold medals in track and field
From almost the get-go, Owens seized the reins as the star of the 1936 Summer Olympics. He coasted to a gold medal in his first event, the 100-meter dash, and followed with a highly publicized victory over German champion Luz Long in the long jump (an event embellished by the tall tale of Long offering advice to help his opponent win).
After setting an Olympic record in the 200-meter dash en route to a third gold medal, Owens put the exclamation point on his showing by running the opening leg of a record-shattering U.S. 4×100 relay performance. He became the first American of any race to win four gold medals in track and field in a single Olympics, an achievement that stood unaccompanied until Carl Lewis matched him in 1984.
Although it was largely reported that Hitler “snubbed” Owens for upstaging his prized Aryan athletes, in reality, he responded to a request to treat the winners equally and declined to publicly congratulate anyone after the first day of competition. Other reports indicated that the Fuhrer did salute Owens from afar, possibly influenced by the adoring reception the athlete received from fans.
Despite Hitler’s snub, Owens left a global legacy
As with the so-called Hitler snub, the narrative of the 1936 Olympics has been softened and simplified over the years. Despite the accomplishments of Owens and his teammates, Germany could still claim athletic superiority by winning the most medals.
More crucially, the Games succeeded as a form of propaganda, spotlighting the Nazi Party as welcoming and orderly even as it was on the precipice of launching another war and exterminating millions of Jews.
On a personal level, the spotlight of the Olympics was an outlier in the career of Owens, who returned to the cold reality of being a Black man in Great Depression-era America. His commercial opportunities failing to materialize, he was forced to race against horses and take on other demeaning jobs for years, until finally catching a break as a government ambassador in the 1950s.
Still, the story of his triumphant showing in those Games endures. While he didn’t halt the machinations of the Nazi regime, Owens undoubtedly stole the spotlight from the host country’s zealous leader.
Furthermore, he showed that Black man could thrive with the eyes of the world upon him, an effort that paved the way for future African American sporting stars like baseball’s Jackie Robinson, and pushed the door open a little wider for the civil rights movement to eventually emerge.
The league was supposed to be temporary, but went on for 12 seasons.
When the United States entered World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt made it clear that he thought Major League Baseball should continue. But as thousands of minor league players and over 500 major league players—including Joe DiMaggio—left their teams to serve in the military, Chicago Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley became concerned about the game’s future. To ensure that baseball (and the revenue he earned from it) would continue, the chewing gum magnate founded what became known as the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in 1943.
Just as women working in factories was supposed to be temporary, Wrigley thought of the women’s league as another temporary wartime measure. But rather than tapering off, the league’s attendance grew after the war, peaking in 1948 when over 900,000 fans attended that season’s games. By then, the league had expanded from four teams to ten. It continued until 1954, playing a total of 12 seasons showcasing more than 500 players during its run.
Forming a League of Their Own
Before World War II, lots of women played softball and baseball recreationally and in tournaments, but there was no professional league comparable to the MLB. The sport was especially popular in Arizona and California, and Wrigley may have gotten the idea to start the league after seeing games there.
To find players for a women’s league, Wrigley sent scouts out across the United States, Canada and Cuba. A total of 60 women made the cut for the first 1943 season, and were divided among four teams: the South Bend Blue Sox, based in Indiana; the Rockford Peaches, based in Illinois; and the Kenosha Comets and the Racine Belles, both based in Wisconsin. Some of the earliest star players were Betsy “Sockum” Jochum, a pitcher for the Blue Sox, and Olive Little, who pitched the league’s first no-hitter for the Peaches in 1943.
“The competition was extremely strong,” says Jean Faut, a pitcher for the South Bend Blue Sox between 1946 and 1953 and the only member of the league to pitch two perfect games. “We had major-league managers and they knew what they were talking about, and some of them are in the baseball hall of fame. So I enjoyed every minute of it.”
Feminine Uniforms Meant Sliding Without Pants
The women in the All-American league were professional athletes who set records and drew crowds, but the standards for their appearance and behavior were very different from those for men in the MLB. All-American players were supposed to look “feminine” on and off the field. They couldn’t wear their hair too short, wear pants in public or go to bars while on the road. And all the teams had a female chaperone who traveled with them and was supposed to accompany players on any dates.
Philip Wrigley’s wife, Helen Blanche Atwater Wrigley, played a large role in shaping the women’s images. She sent them to charm school and came up with the idea for the above-the-knee dresses they wore as uniforms (the dresses became shorter over the years). Without pants to protect their legs, players constantly developed “strawberries”—i.e. welts and bruises—from sliding into base.
This wasn’t the only reason the uniform was tough to play in. The fact that the dress was one piece instead of two meant that “every time you raised your arms up, your whole uniform came up in the air,” says Lois Youngen, who played in the league between 1951 and 1954 for the Kenosha Comets, the Fort Wayne Daisies and the South Bend Blue Sox, and was the catcher for one of Jean Faut’s perfect games.
The uniform’s belt, meant to highlight player’s waistlines, was also restrictive. “I was a catcher, so I would always unloosen my belt, and that was the only way I had enough room to lift my arms to throw to second base,” she says.
Still, Youngen says that “if you were to ask the women, they would tell you they’d still rather play baseball in that uniform than eat.” That’s basically what the late Lavonne “Pepper” Paire, a catcher who played for multiple All-American teams starting in 1944, said when reflecting on her time in the league. According to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, she added: “We put our hearts and souls into the league. We thought it was our job to do our best, because we were the All-American girls. We felt like we were keeping up our country’s morale.”
Playing Ball After World War II
The All-American teams were popular in the cities they represented, and during their first season they drew over 170,000 attendees. Seeing its success, a few prominent men in Chicago started the rival National Girls Baseball League in 1944. But by then, Philip Wrigley was no longer worried about the future of men’s baseball, and was losing interest in the women’s league. At the end of that year’s season, he sold the league to his Chicago advertising executive, Arthur Meyerhoff. Under Meyerhoff’s leadership, the league expanded its number of teams in the league and ramped up publicity.
One way in which the league didn’t evolve was racial integration. When Wrigley started the league in 1943, it followed the MLB’s policy of not hiring Black players. Yet after Jackie Robinson became the first Black player to join the MLB in 1947, the women’s league continued to exclude Black women.
The late pitcher Mamie “Peanut” Johnson said that when she attempted to try out for the league in the early 1950s, it turned her away because she was Black. Barred from the women’s league, Johnson followed in the steps of Toni Stone, the first woman to join the Black men’s leagues. Johnson became the second woman to play in these leagues, and one of only three women to do so (the third was Connie Morgan).
The All-American league ended in 1954, the same year as the National Girls Baseball League. Although public memory of the All-American league faded over the next few decades, it received renewed attention when the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum opened a permanent exhibit about it in 1988; and again in 1992, with the debut of the fictionalized movie A League of Their Own.
When asked about her time in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, Jean Faut echoes what many of the former players have said over and over: “Those years in the league were the greatest years of my life.”
Though Robert F. Kennedy never served as president, he established a profoundly meaningful bond with the American people during the tumultuous 1960s. With the nation mired in war and deeply divided at home, RFK took the risky step of challenging an incumbent president of his own party, Lyndon Johnson.
The RFK who campaigned for president bore little resemblance to the hard-charging, vengeful and unforgiving young man who had once worked for Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy and who served as the bare-knuckled enforcer of John F. Kennedy’s political campaigns. The suffering he endured following his brother’s 1963 assassination had softened RFK’s tough image; the man born to enormous privilege and known for his ruthlessness became more sympathetic to the downtrodden and dispossessed. During his brief 82-day campaign for the Democratic nomination, he traveled to some of the poorest regions of the United States, supported striking farm workers and lent his name to the burgeoning anti-war movement. RFK was the only white politician in America who could walk through the streets of both white and Black working-class neighborhoods and be embraced by both.
One of the most powerful moments of his campaign took place on April 4, when civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee. Campaigning in Indianapolis at the time, Kennedy climbed onto the back of a flatbed truck to deliver the shocking news to a largely African American crowd. “For those of you who are Black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and distrust at the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I can only say that I feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling,” Kennedy said. “I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.” No other white man in America could deliver that message with the same credible empathy.
With King dead, Kennedy became for many disaffected people—Black and white—the only national leader who commanded respect and enthusiasm. On Vietnam, RFK, who had previously supported his brother’s military escalation of the conflict, now called for a negotiated settlement. Domestically, Kennedy believed that convincing poor people of all colors to pursue their shared class interests offered the only solution to the deep racial hostility tearing the nation apart. “We have to convince the Negroes and poor whites that they have common interests,” Kennedy told journalist Jack Newfield. “If we can reconcile those two hostile groups, and then add the kids, you can really turn this country around.”
Two months later on June 5, after winning the crucial California primary, RFK was shot by Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian who opposed the senator’s pro-Israel stance. Twenty-five hours later, he died at only 42 years old—even younger than his brother John F. Kennedy, 46, when he was slain in November 1963.
Planning the Logistics—and Optics—of a Funeral Train
Once it became clear that RFK was not going to survive his wounds, family members started planning for the aftermath. They decided to hold the funeral at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, followed by a burial at Arlington National Cemetery the same day. The main practical question was how they would get the thousands of mourners from New York to Washington. The train seemed not only a logical choice, but also the most appropriate one for RFK. “His people live along the railway tracks,” reflected economist John Kenneth Galbraith, alluding to the senator’s working-class supporters.
Deciding on a funeral mass and burial 225 miles apart presented the Kennedy team with a logistical nightmare. They had to develop a guest list for the mass, then narrow that list down to those who would be invited on the train. They started with nearly 10,000 names culled from various campaign lists dating back to JFK’s presidential bid in 1960. Just when they thought they had settled on the guests, Senator Edward Kennedy, the last surviving brother, added more—including old Boston friends. “Looking back on it,” legislative aide Carter Burden reflected, “I’m amazed how arbitrary the whole thing was.”
At the same time, they needed to negotiate with Penn Central to cobble together enough train cars. Eventually, the railroad arranged for two locomotives to pull the 21 mismatched cars. They loaded the bar car with plenty of alcohol and ordered extra first-class meals so the guests could dine on steaks, hamburgers and cheesecake. The last five cars were reserved for family members and close friends, with the casket sitting in the rearmost one, a special observation car with picture windows on each side. To make sure people lining the tracks could view the casket, the family requested it be placed on red velvet chairs and selected a rotating honor guard to stand at the head and foot for 15-minute intervals.
RFK’s body was flown to New York for a requiem mass at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on the morning of June 8, attended by some 2,000 people, including President Lyndon Johnson. Afterward, about 700 invited guests boarded 30 buses for the short trip to Penn Station, where they were screened by the Secret Service before being allowed to enter the train.
“You could tell the story of Robert Kennedy by telling the story of the people on this train,” family friend Bill Walton told the journalist Jean Stein. They came from all parts of RFK’s life. In addition to campaign aides and advisors, his extended family was present, including Jackie Kennedy and her two children John and Caroline, who joined dozens of other Kennedy kids, running through the cars and rolling on the floor. At one point, 7-year-old John Jr. stepped out on the open platform and, apparently not knowing how to respond to the crowds, started blessing them as if he were the Pope.
Many prominent members of JFK’s administration, including Robert McNamara and Walter Heller, hunkered down in the smoking car. Also on board were liberal Hollywood stars such as George Plimpton and Shirley MacLaine; organized labor figures such as Walter Reuther; and civil rights leaders John Lewis, Julian Bond and Reverend Ralph Abernathy. Though an eclectic group, it was still fairly mainstream. “There weren’t many radicals on that train,” recalled civil rights activist Ivanhoe Donaldson.
As they emerged from the tunnel under the Hudson River into the bright sunshine of northern New Jersey, the passengers got their first glimpse of the enormous crowds gathered to view the train. On the river beside the train tracks, passengers spied a little red Harbor boat with the crew standing at attention on the deck, saluting as the train passed. The name of the boat was John F. Kennedy. In the marshlands of northern Jersey, hardened workers stood atop trucks with their hands placed over their hearts. One man knelt in prayer by the trackside.
Not anticipating this outpouring of emotion, the organizers and Penn Central had failed to make special security arrangements, resulting in yet another tragedy. In Elizabeth, two locals, Antoinette Severini and John Curia, joined a crowd spilling out onto the tracks. By the time Curia saw a northbound train coming from the opposite direction, it was too late. He tried to pull Severini, who was holding her three-year-old grandchild in her arms, out of harm’s way. Severini tossed her grandchild to strangers on the platform as she and Curia were crushed under the train’s wheels. Reporters on the train learned about the accident, but refrained from mentioning it to grieving members of the Kennedy clan.
The Kennedy organizers made frantic calls to Penn Central, insisting the train would not move from the Elizabeth Station until they received a guarantee that such an accident would not happen again. In response, the railroad canceled all northbound trains and sent a “pilot train” as a security measure, to provide warning that the Kennedy procession was approaching.
‘What the Hell Was the Nation Going to Do Now?’
RFK’s funeral train continued to pass through a succession of small stations, clusters of towns and big urban centers. In New Brunswick, a lone bugler stood on the station platform sounding taps. In rural areas, girls flocked tothe railroad on horseback, and boys looked down from trees. Outside Philadelphia, a junior high school band played “America the Beautiful.” At the Philadelphia train station, onlookers linked arms and sang the “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah” chorus of the Civil War anthem “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” one of RFK’s favorite songs.
By the time they reached Philadelphia, the train passengers had started walking around, greeting old friends, exchanging baby pictures. “There was always that ludicrous mixture of heartbreak and how to get your sandwiches,” observed columnist Joseph Alsop. Historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. was struck by the “mixture of grief and hilarious reminiscence.” At one point Schlesinger turned to Kenny O’Donnell, JFK’s unofficial chief of staff, and noted the “marvelous crowds.” O’Donnell was not impressed. “Yes,” he replied glumly, “but what are they good for now?”
Echoing O’Donnell, journalist Jack Newfield reflected that RFK’s death created a void on the American Left: “No one came after him who could speak simultaneously for the unemployed black teenager and the white worker trapped in a dead-end job and feeling misunderstood.” Many of those on board had been involved with the Kennedy family for decades. They had already buried one brother; now, five years later, another’s limitless promise had been extinguished. “I think perhaps one of the saddest aspects of the funeral train was that an awful lot of people felt there was nowhere to go,” recalled author and activist Michael Harrington. According to Roger Hilsman, who served in the State Department under President Kennedy, all the conversations eventually led to one urgent question: “What the hell was the nation going to do now?”
The depth of such desperation showed in the countless trackside mourners.Many passengers ventured on the platform between trains to try to get a better feel for the mesmerizing crowds. “Inside the train, you couldn’t hear anything,” said humorist Art Buchwald. “But on the platform, you could hear the cheers, and the people crying.” Standing between cars, Carter Burden recalled, allowed him to get close enough to the people to hear what they were saying: “It became [an] incredibly intense and moving and stirring experience.”
Though there were only five Black women on the train besides Coretta Scott King and her small entourage, RFK staffer Millie Williams noted, “We were well-represented on the outside. That’s where all my people were.” Marian Wright Edelman, a veteran of the civil rights struggle in the South, said that Kennedy represented “the last hope” after King’s murder, as seen by the outpouring of minority support that had propelled him to victory in the California primary.
Gazing out the window, journalist Newfield witnessed“tens of thousands of poor Blacks, already bereft from the loss of Martin Luther King, weeping and waving goodbye on one side of the railroad tracks.” And alongside those Black mourners were “tens of thousands of almost poor whites on the other side of the train, waving American flags, standing at attention, hands over their hearts, tears running down their faces.”
Of course, all eyes focused on the last car carrying the casket and grieving family members. “The casket was raised up so that he could be seen through the window,” Burden recalled, “and all around the ledge just beneath window level were paper cups and Coke cans and half-eaten sandwiches and overfilled ashtrays… The family had been waiting out the long afternoon like everybody else on the train.” A few family members, including Edward Kennedy, stood on the back platform greeting the crowds. Ethel remained alone, dressed starkly in black with a veil covering her face, hunched over, her head resting against the casket and her hands grasping rosary beads. “It was the only moment,” Burden reflected, “that I saw her cry.”
Somewhere between Philadelphia and Wilmington, Ethel decided to walk through each car, accompanied by her 15-year-old son Joe. “I’m Joe Kennedy. Thank you. Thank you for coming,” he repeated dozens of times. “Thank you for your sympathy.” Ethel followed, smiling, and shaking hands. “We appreciate your coming. Thank you.”
As RFK’s body moved closer to its final resting place, the occupants grew quiet again. Everyone felt exhausted. The air conditioning broke down in several cars. They ran out of food and booze. The toilets overflowed. “I think at the end everyone was just numb,” Milton Gwirtzman told Jean Stein. The mood of the crowds also seemed to shift. Russell Baker noticed “for the first time all day not a single face in the crowd smiled.” Those who greeted the train earlier in its journey shared “not so much a sense of mourning, as a sense of excitement at being part of an American event.” By the time they reached Baltimore, people seemed more aware of the gravity of the moment.
The trip lasted for eight hours—twice as long as expected—because more than one million people had massed along the tracks and milled in stations to honor their slain hero. Some waited for hours. Others arrived as word spread by radio or television. It was a microcosm of America on a summer Saturday afternoon: working people, businessmen, housewives, Boy Scouts, American Legionnaires. Little Leaguers stopped their games to rush to the tracks, some saluting while others placed their baseball caps over their hearts. Signs floated above the crowd: “God help you,” “RFK, RIP,” “Bless RFK.” The most common one read, “Bye Bobby.”
Dave Powers, who had been part of the Kennedy Irish mafia dating back to JFK’s first campaign for Congress in 1946, did not want the train ride to end. “I wish this thing could go through every state, just keep going,” he said.
I was one of those who managed to catch a glimpse of the RFK funeral train as it sped through my town of Darby, a poor, racially mixed neighborhood a few miles south of the Philadelphia 30th Street Station. The train passed on a track only a few hundred yards from our house. On that sweltering Saturday afternoon, my father, older brother and I stood on a bridge, looking down. I will never forget the scene, a snapshot of unity: old and young people, African American and white, standing shoulder-to-shoulder. A group of Catholic nuns prayed near the tracks, rosary beads in their hands. As the train passed below, I spied Edward Kennedy, the last surviving brother, astride a platform on the last car waving gently to the crowd. Behind him sat the flag-draped coffin.
The interracial, cross-classnature of those who turned out that day has left a tantalizing question: What if RFK had lived? Could he have wrestled the nomination from Vice President Hubert Humphrey and built a powerful coalition that would defeat GOP nominee Richard Nixon in the fall? Tragically, we will never know the answer to those questions. But as the nation grows even more fragmented, it is useful to reflect on a moment in time when, through his passion and commitment, RFK managed to hold together the delicate center of American politics—if only for an eight-hour train ride from New York to Washington D.C.