Decades ago, an ad campaign extolled how women "had come a long way." Today, that tagline is applicable to women's sports, and ESPN's coverage of them.
To commemorate the 30th anniversary of Title IX — the federal law signed on June 23, 1972, which leveled the collegiate playing field for men's and women's sports — "ESPN's Women and Sports Weekend" will offer an array of documentaries, specials, vignettes and live events from June 21 to June 23.
The tribute to female sports follows last week's announcement of a six-year extension of ESPN's deal to televise Women's National Basketball Association games.
As part of that pact, terms of which were not disclosed, ESPN sibling ABC will replace NBC as broadcaster carrier of the pro-hoops circuit, tipping in the 2003 season. (ABC is also succeeding NBC as the over-the-air home of the WNBA's brother league, the National Basketball Association.)
ESPN senior vice president and general manager of programming Mark Shapiro said the WNBA pact — which includes a pre-game show for each ESPN2 telecast — highlights ESPN's fervor for women's athletics.
"The WNBA deal is long-term, and our commitment to women's sports in general has been significant," Shapiro said. "No other outlet has given women's sports the in-depth and long-term coverage that we have.
"For us, it's not about top sports for men, or top sports for women," he added. "It's about top sports, regardless of gender."
During the Women and Sports Weekend, ESPN and ESPN2 will feature live coverage of the WNBA; stops on the Ladies Professional Golf Association, Women's Tennis Association and Professional Women's Bowling Association tours; and female boxing. Other event coverage includes: U.S. track and field team events, Women's Pro Billiards and the World's Strongest Woman competition.
ESPN Classic will replay such seminal moments as the 1972 Battle of the Sexes
tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs; the U.S. national team topping China in the 1999 World Cup; and Connecticut defeating Oklahoma to win the 2002 NCAA women's basketball in the most-watched college basketball telecast in ESPN's history — men included.
And on June 22 at 5 p.m., ESPN will air On Equal Ground, a one-hour documentary focusing on Cohen vs. Brown
, the landmark case filed by female athletes at Brown University after the school cut their programs. It led to the decision that triggered the women's sports movement.
At 8 p.m. that night, ESPN will air the documentary On the Basis of Sex: The Battle of Title IX, tracing the measure's evolution and the subsequent fallout for both women and men's sports. That one-hour show will be followed by On the Basis of Sex: An ESPN Town Meeting, a live, roundtable discussion centered on Title IX and women in sports.