Tiffeny Milbrett checks herself in the mirror. Her hair is all Pantene shiny, her foundation caked on; her toned shoulders nicely fill out an Oxford button-down shirt. Sure, the world's best female soccer player would feel more comfortable in Umbros and a scrunchy, but a magazine photo shoot is good pub for the fledgling WUSA. "Beautiful!" the photographer raves. Click. Click. Click.
But then he pauses. A frown creeps across his face as he looks at Milbrett's chest. Something is wrong. The bra. It's showing underneath her white shirt. Too distracting, he tells her. Could she take it off?
Title IX changed everything. It brought unprecedented opportunity, new responsibility and difficult decisions. As the WUSA's best player, Milbrett is asked to do more than score goals. Expand the brand, she is constantly reminded. "Once you get to the marketplace, success is driven by economics, not legislation," says Tom George, who repped Anna Kournikova, Sheryl Swoopes and Bonnie Blair before becoming AD at American University.
So for the ultimate Title IX baby, the ultimate Title IX dilemma: Do what you love and hope the money will follow? Or go the extra yard to get fans, sponsors and media bigwigs to spend the extra dollar? Leave it on? Or take it off?
Leave it on. That's what Anne Donovan would say. She graduated from high school in 1979, a year after Title IX measures kicked in. Her older sister Mary graduated in 1977. Both girls were New Jersey prep stars with tons of basketball talent (Anne is 6'8", Mary's 6'4"), but Mary was born two years too soon. She got two scholarship offers; Anne got 200. Mary went to Penn State, played four years and later became a stay-at-home mom. Anne chose Old Dominion, where she teamed with Player of the Year Nancy Lieberman to win the AIAW national title in 1980. She won Olympic gold in '84 and '88, played six years overseas then returned to ODU as an assistant. Today, she's head coach of the WNBA's Charlotte Sting and a member of the Hall of Fame.
Anne didn't need to show her feminine side to make a living off the game she loves. She did just fine in a power suit. Last summer, in a sold-out Madison Square Garden, Donovan's Sting eliminated the New York Liberty to reach the WNBA Finals. Amid the postgame commotion, Anne hugged Mary, thought about Title IX -- and broke down in tears. "I thought about my life and how different it would have been," she says. "I thought about what this thing did to get us here."
Leave it on. That's what the 39–0 UConn Huskies would say. They turned tiny Storrs, Conn., into Title IX heaven. Scandal-free and arguably more popular than the men's team, they've lost four games in three years. The basketball is pure and unselfish, the players smart and athletic. They sell out every game, have a lucrative TV deal and won the 2002 NCAA title inside a packed Alamodome. Next season, every Tourney game will air on ESPN or ESPN2 -- thanks in large part to UConn, archrival Tennessee and their succession of shiny-faced stars. Geno Auriemma earns more than half a million a year coaching women. His four starting seniors -- all picked in the top six of the WNBA draft -- will each get at least $50,000 for a three-month season, plus plenty of endorsement offers.
There's your fame and fortune -- shirts and bras included.
Take it off. That's what Anita Marks would say. She's standing on a beach, posing for a photographer, wearing eyeblack and nothing else. Marks, 32, is the starting QB for the Miami Fury of the Independent Women's Football League. After the WNBA's Lisa Harrison turned down Playboy, Anita's agent convinced her to send some pics. Playboy said yes. So did Mom: "You go for it, sweetie!"
Marks has this dream to be "the next Melissa Stark." Playing for the Fury and posing for Playboy are "the vehicle to get me where I want to go." When she was interviewed nine months ago on The Morning Bullpen, a Miami radio show, Marks made sure to plug Playboy. Now she has a regular Bullpen gig as the "Ultimate Sports Chick."
"Women in sports need to have two personas," Marks says. "What they believe is right isn't going to make money. It isn't going to make you famous." She appears in the September issue of Playboy. By Labor Day, millions will have seen her, uh, face.
Take it off. That's what Ty Votaw would say. At least, that's what the LPGA commissioner seemed to suggest when he called golfers to Phoenix in March for a mandatory three-day summit. He announced a five-year marketing plan and his Five Points of Celebrity: performance, passion, approachability, relevance and, yes, appearance. If that means shorter shorts or navel-bearing shirts, so be it. "I'd love to see the day when talent is enough," Votaw says. "But we're not there yet."
While the commish knows his low-key Big Three (Annika Sorenstam, Se Ri Pak and Karrie Webb) aren't about to pull a Brandi, he can always count on Laura Diaz to turn a few heads. She has her mother hem her Hilfiger shorts three inches before hitting the course. "If that's what gets them hooked, that's fine," she says. "We're women. How can you not market us as women?"
In other words, if you've got it, flaunt it -- and profit from it.
The moment of truth has arrived for Tiffeny Milbrett. She hears the photographer's request -- could she take it off? -- and her face contorts into a glare. The bra stays on. "I'm not a model," she says. "I'm an athlete. I only want to make money doing my trade. The rest I don't really care for. I don't give a rat's ass about being sexy."
But when the World Cup comes around again next year, Milbrett will take one for the team. While her bra will stay on, she won't duck the spotlight. Already there are more requests for photo shoots, so many that she recently hired a New York-based agent who insists it's "Tiff Time." All this success -- the scholarship, the World Cup, the WUSA -- is something her mother never imagined. But if Milbrett should ever start a family of her own, the chance to make a living playing soccer is something her daughter will take for granted.
This article appears in the June 24 issue of ESPN The Magazine.
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