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Back to the Future

A 21st century perspective on Title IX

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Posted: Monday August 30, 1999 03:48 PM


By Patricia Heys, CNNSI

Fifty years after the passage of Title IX in 1972, the landscape of women's sports has changed drastically, but the name in the spotlight remains the same -- Chrissie.

In the 1970s Chris Evert defeated the women's top tennis players, enchanted fans and became the most popular female sports figure of the decade. Now, in 2022, Chrissie Brown is the biggest name in the expanded world of women's sports.

But the similarities between the two "Chrissies" ends with their name. While a teenager, Evert, heavily influenced by her father, played one of the only two major professional sports available to women. The 30-year-old Brown's resume reads differently.

Brown, a basketball player turned golfer falls into the second generation of Title IX athletes. Brown's mother played college basketball in the 1980s, when the NCAA was just beginning to sponsor the sport for women.

"My mother loved playing basketball," said Brown, a Portland native. "And when she stopped playing she started coaching. She coached me when I was a kid. Even at the turn of the century there weren't that many moms coaching little league, and a lot of my friends would say 'Your mom's the coach?' I think they thought it was pretty cool."

Now Brown is a mother and has also quit playing basketball -- at least professionally. The No. 1 pick in the 2014 Women's National Basketball Association draft, Brown spent her rookie season with the Atlanta Herons playing with veteran superstar Chamique Holdsclaw. But the trade that sent her to the Miami Haze the next year proved a turning point in her career. Brown teamed with Miami coach Teresa Edwards, a five-time Olympian, for three straight WNBA titles.

Brown, 6-foot-1, became one of the most heralded point guards in the history of the league. Her No. 10 jersey, worn in honor of her childhood hero soccer superstar Michelle Akers, is the hottest selling. Brown's success in Miami and willingness to embrace the controversial term "role model" led to a string of endorsements. She became Reebok's highest paid athlete and is the main spokesperson for Apple Computers.

But a number of events led to Brown's retirement in 2021. She sat out the 2019 WNBA season after the birth of her daughter, Mary, and the 2020 season was canceled because of a labor dispute. Brown drew criticism that year as one of the leaders of the newly formed Women Athletes' Union.

"There were some issues in the WNBA and in some of the other professional leagues that weren't being addressed," said Brown, who earned a degree in business from her alma mater Arizona State. "Someone had to address the fact that high school and college underclassmen were entering the WNBA in record numbers. And in some of the newer leagues, players were not getting appropriate marketing and publicity."

The WAU now encompasses the WNBA, North American Hockey League, Professional Softball Association, National Soccer League and Brown's newest affiliation -- the Ladies Professional Golf Association.

"Growing up golf was the sport everyone wanted play," Brown said. "Like a lot of kids I begged my parents for a set of clubs, and then I saved money each week to go play. I wasn't very good, but it was so addictive. You make one good shot and it seals the deal -- you'll be back."

Brown played golf at top courses all across the country during her WNBA career, making numerous appearances in celebrity tournaments. She earned an LPGA exemption card last fall and has finished in the top 10 in four tournaments this year. Her first victory came last month at the Dell Computer Classic, but Brown is making bigger headlines with her scheduled Billie Jean King-Bobby Riggs-type match against the PGA Tour's Sergio Garcia.

"Of course I wasn't alive when the King-Riggs match took place, but I know the enormous impact it had," Brown said. "This started out as just a way for the PGA and LPGA to raise some money for charity. But I guess it has become a gender event. That's fine with me. If this helps validate women as athletes or draws more support for the LPGA, I'll be glad I played a small part."

If it seems like history is repeating itself -- it is. Another century is highlighted by a multi-sport athlete. Is Chrissie Brown the next Babe Didrikson? Another Battle of the Sexes is taking place, but this time on the golf course. Will Brown-Garcia lead to even more opportunities for women? Another Chrissie is taking the world by storm. Who will be the next superstar?

Related information
Sports Illustrated for Women
SI's Frank Deford: Instant Century
SI's Montville: Who is the Centuryís Best?
SI's Favorite 20 Athletes of the 20th Century
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