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"Sarah Palin, She Shoots, She Scores!"

Mary Campbell Gallagher, J.D., Ph.D.
Baltimore Examiner
November 2, 2008

When 37 million people watched Sarah Palin deliver her rousing acceptance
speech at the Republican National Convention, they were not just seeing a
ticket-balancing religious conservative. They were hearing a superb
speaker and the first woman athlete to rise in national politics since
Title IX mandated equal rights for girls in education in 1972. Because of
Title IX, girls like Palin got to skip Home Ec and pick the same courses
as boys. Equally or more important, they got to enter the
character-defining crucible of inter-school athletics. They called Sarah
Palin Sarah Barracuda when she led the Wasilla Warriors to the 1982 state
basketball championship in Alaska. It was leading her basketball team
that made Palin into Speaker Barracuda in Denver, too. As a woman, a
speaker, a Toastmaster, and National Speakers Association member, I am

Before Title IX, there was hardly such a thing as inter-school team sports
for girls, except maybe field hockey, nor were there many women who spoke
like Sarah Palin. Girls could do graceful individual sports like tennis,
gymnastics, riding, swimming, diving, fencing, archery. And they had
sports mainly just for girls, like synchronized swimming and
baton-twirling. Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Lynne Cheney were both champion
baton-twirlers! But storming the length of a basketball court--and even
getting knocked to the floor--with a bunch of tough gals wearing shorts,
in public, would have been unladylike. "Horses sweat, men perspire, and
ladies only glow a little." Basketball might as well have been Roller
Derby, it was so unfeminine. And if unfeminine, then lesbian! My high
school taught us half-court basketball. I cringe to think about it. Women
who play only half-court basketball don't give speeches that draw blood.

Inhibition was the rule not just in sports but when it came to having
opinions. "Don't talk!" mothers told their little girls. "Let the men
do the talking!" Samuel Johnson said: "A woman's preaching is like a dog
walking on his hind legs--it is not done well; but you are surprised to
find it done at all." Intimidated and inhibited even now, many older
women speak in a timid sing-song, asking permission. Or they shout to get
attention, and they sound harsh or shrill. Palin shows that a woman can
speak out with a wicked smile and saucy delight.

Palin cheerfully whacked Obama to bits. Obama couldn't decide whether to
vote Yes or No in the Illinois legislature, so he voted "Present," 130
times! Obama has authored two autobiographies, but no substantial piece of
legislation! With her confident and good-humored delivery of killer
lines, she's helped John McCain beat Obama--at least for the time
being--in the polls, and she draws Obama-sized crowds whenever she and
McCain appear together. The sorority sisters on the editorial pages may
swipe at her religious faith, sneer at her pregnant daughter, and cavil at
her elbows-out, shirt-tugging, executive style, but By George! that girl
can speak!

Palin the speaker is authoritative, down-to-earth, hortatory, humorous,
go-get'em. Neither a trial lawyer spinning an emotional narrative nor a
debater arguing three good points, she spoke to the Republican Convention
like the Warrior Queen Elizabeth I sending her troops out against the
Spanish Armada. That's how she spoke when she ran for office in Alaska,
too, promising to look out for Alaska's citizens like a mother bear, "like
Nanook." Palin spoke to the Convention, in fact, like the captain of an
inter-school basketball team exhorting her players in a sweaty locker
room--which she was. The Republicans roared their approval. Go, team!

The women like Palin who have benefited from competitive inter-school team
sports because of Title IX are in their forties now, or younger. They are
the women who are running for public office and starting their own
businesses, women who simply assume they can be leaders. Palin herself
told ABC's Charles Gibson, "I’m a product of Title IX, where we had
equality in schools that was just being ushered in with sports and with
equal opportunity for education, all of my life. . . ." Palin didn't wait
for McCain to offer her the nomination, she made it clear to interviewers
long before that, yes! she really wanted that vice-presidential job!

Thanks to Title IX, team sports have strengthened these younger women's
competitive appetites and taught them how to build a team, how to belong
to a team, and how to lead. For Palin the key to her break-through
nomination was break-through speaking skills. But the secret to Palin's
speaking success was break-through basketball. She shoots, she scores!
Mary Campbell Gallagher, J.D., Ph.D., is a professional speaker and the owner of
BarWrite® and BarWrite Press, a business that trains lawyers to write more
efficiently and prepares candidates for the bar exam. Her writing has appeared in
Newsday, New York Metro, The New York Observer, The Nation, The Weekly
and Legal Times.