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Title IX 40 for 40: Phoebe Murphy

Title IX 40 for 40: Phoebe Murphy

Phoebe Murphy enters her 24th season with the Brown rowing team. Murphy has helped lead the Bears to unprecedented success, as the team has won seven NCAA Division I Women’s Rowing Championships in the last 13 years. Murphy, who was named the associate head coach last season, captained the Brown crew team in 1980 and stroked the varsity four which won the National Championship in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

How did Title IX help to change the perception of women in athletics?
Murphy: Before Title IX there was a real perception that women were not up to the level men were in terms of ability to perform in competition under pressure. By giving women the opportunities to reach their real potential, people came to the realization that, female or male, a good athlete is a good athlete. When I was rowing in the late 1970’s and the early 1980’s the distance for the races was 1000-meters because the feeling was that women were not capable of rowing longer than that distance. At the 1984 Olympics the distance for the women was 1000-meters. In the Spring of 1985 the distance was moved to 2000-meters, the same as the men.

Who is someone you view as a pioneer in women's athletics and why? 
Murphy: We have one of the real leaders right here at Brown and her name is Arlene Gorton, a former Associate Athletic Director at Brown. She is retired now, but her legacy lives on. All the people who saw the rise of women's athletics at Brown will remember Arlene. She was absolutely determined to give women the same opportunities to compete and she went to bat for all the women’s teams. I saw it first-hand as a student at Brown while she was associate athletic director. I remember our captains approaching her about wanting to purchase a women's boat (we had been racing in the discarded men's boats), and she got right on the project and helped us to fund raise for a new shell.  She didn't want us to us to be dependent on the men. Instead she helped us to be independent and to fend for ourselves. She was a strong advocate for women doing an equal amount of whatever was necessary to achieve athletic and academic excellence. Her feeling was if you wanted equal treatment you had to shoulder your share of the burden. All she asked for was fairness and she kept pressing for it until it happened. As a student, I was not completely aware of the inequities, but as a coach, I realized how much she had done to get our team up to speed and I really gained a great appreciation for all that she did for my particular sport and for all the other women's sports at Brown.

Do you feel that equal opportunity in intercollegiate athletics exists?
Murphy: Absolutely. And in some cases like in rowing, there is more opportunity for women.  In schools like Michigan, Virginia, Ohio State, USC and Notre Dame, there are 20 full rowing scholarships for women, and on the men's side they are forced to row at the club level where it is all self-funded. In response to Title IX, the NCAA in rowing has created far more opportunity than exists in men's rowing which is not an NCAA sport. The same number of secondary schools have boys’ and girls’ teams, but then when you get to college the opportunity is much greater for women and it seems that there is a real effort to be vigilant about making sure that the women have equal opportunity.