Starting with “yes, and…” instead of no

27 Feb

You may have read about the US Department of Education’s January 2013 mandate requiring schools to “make ‘reasonable’ changes to sports programs so that disabled students can play—or else create separate teams for them”  (

If so, you probably heard about the immediate “no” response, summed up by Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative thinktank: “I’m sympathetic to the idea that kids with disabilities should be able to play sports, but this is an incredible example of executive overreach and a huge unfunded mandate.”

In other words, no. Too expensive.

Hold on, now… let’s try a little “yes, and…” thinking, shall we?

Yes, some changes would be costly. And, some changes are pretty affordable, like holding up visual coaching cues on the sidelines of a match or simply allowing students in wheelchairs to compete in track events.

Yes, Title IX was and continues to be an expensive mandate to enact and enforce. And, it has helped produce some of our nation’s finest athletes. And, not just women (hello, men’s gymnastics).

Yes, this is a budget question. And it’s a civil rights question. (And yes, civil rights are expensive to fight for. And, thank goodness we continue to fight for those rights for all, not just some of us.)

I’m not saying the budget question isn’t real or valid. It is. And, letting budget drive civil rights is, in the long run, a bad way to invest (or not invest) in a society.

In an interview, I was once asked how I feel about people like Tim Wise making big bucks talking about white privilege. How I feel is that people ought to get paid well for important work, and I think equity, inclusion and social justice are important work. (That said, I also think we need to ask ourselves why white heterosexual men in the not-too-young-and-not-too-old age range are the highest paid and most venerated in the field.) By extension, I would say that of course the important work and transformation of civil rights is costly (at least up front, although in the long run, it brings an excellent return on investment). And so we should not throw up our hands in surprise and defeat when we have the opportunity to expand civil rights in the US, but rather lean into the challenge and bring our best thinking to how we will stand for what we believe in.

So I would ask the good people at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute to decide whether they think civil rights are vital to these United States. (I’ll wait.)

And, if so, then to please join us in applying some “yes, and…” thinking to help create equitable opportunities in athletics for athletes of all abilities, and schools of all budgets.

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