Viewpoint Yale rower has unique spot in women’s sports history
As Daisy Mazzio-Manson steadies her heart, steadies her breathing for the start of Heat 1 of the varsity eight on Friday, her mind will not be on guys hooting and hollering at her while she tries to weight train.
As she contemplates her first stroke in the NCAA rowing championships her mind will not be on the ignominy of sitting on a bus, shivering, risking pneumonia while waiting for the men after Yale’s practice on the Housatonic River.
Mazzio-Manson will consume herself with quite another matter in the first of four heats at Benderson Park in Sarasota, Fla: getting back at Princeton for beating her boat in the varsity eight grand final at the Ivy League championships.
“There are eight or nine really good crews here,” Mazzio-Manson said. “But we’ve got to race Princeton right away in the first heat. That’s our main competitor to think about as we train.”
This is a good thing. The main competitor is not the Yale administration. The main opponent is not alumni or a disrespectful men’s heavyweight team.
Those are fights Mazzio-Manson has never had to fight. Those fights are 42 years old. An eternity in the world of nonstop sports, an eternity for a college sophomore. Yet they are only yesterday for those who have weathered the fight for equality in college athletics.
Mazzio-Manson is the Daisy of a “A Hero For Daisy” a stirring documentary made by her mom, Mary Mazzio, in 1999. The hero is Chris Ernst, a two-time Olympian, a great Yale rower, who led one of the most provocative and creative protests in collegiate sports history. The seminal moment gave definition to the Title IX movement and evoked the kind of change that made the sports world a better place.
And now here is Daisy, the progeny of that short powerful film, rowing for Yale. As a freshman, she won the school’s Chris Ernst Award. As a sophomore she has been named All-Ivy League, determined for a strong finish in the grand NCAA final on Sunday.
“I was always aware of the documentary,” Mazzio-Manson said. “It was always part of the house. We had ‘A Hero For Daisy’ posters on the wall. My mom’s friends talked about it. People around the rowing talked about it. I’ve known Chris since I was a baby.”
It seems like insanity now, but four years after the institution of Title IX, Yale’s highly successful women rowers had no locker room. The toilet was in the back of the boat repair shop. A portable shower in a trailer ran cold water, yet even that stopped when Yale administration failed to a get a permit renewal. Thirty minutes away from campus in Derby, the women sat in the bus, waiting for the men to shower and dress. They got sick. Eventually, they got sick and tired.
The women had a plan. It was an outrageous one, a courageous one. Ernst set up an appointment with Joni Barnett, director of physical education and women’s athletics. Yet it wasn’t only Ernst who showed up at her office on March 3, 1976. There were 19 women rowers in blue Yale sweats. The sweats didn’t last long. The women pulled them off.
“Title IX” was written across their bare chests and backs. With a photographer and an editor from the Yale Daily News serving as a stringer for The New York Times there, Ernst read a 300-word statement. “These are the bodies Yale is exploiting,” she began.
The story spread quickly in the media. Powerful alumni were embarrassed. They opened their checkbooks. Within a week, a temporary trailer permit was approved in Derby for the showers. By 1977, a locker room, showers and boat storage addition were finished.
“What happened makes me appreciate what I have,” Mazzio-Manson said. “It inspires me to be a better athlete, but also try to find ways to make athletics better for women in the future. In that way, I think it inspires me to be a better person.”
Mazzio left the world of corporate law to become a filmmaker. She has gone on to do powerful work. The latest, the 2017 documentary “I Am Jane Doe,” stands as a mighty advocate for young victims of online sex trafficking. Mazzio has talked over the years how the idea for her first documentary came while she was pregnant with Daisy and saw a television commercial. Yeah, the Victoria’s Secret models were thin and beautiful, Mazzio has said, but there was nothing out there for her unborn daughter to know it’s cool to be sweaty, dirty and strong.
Mazzio-Manson has watched “A Hero For Daisy,” her mom’s permission to be sweaty dirty, a hundred times. She has an internet link ready when a teammate wants to watch.
“I don’t feel (like a direct descendent of the protest) as much as I feel grateful,” she said. “It’s striking to think of how brave the women must have been. Being at a college age, I can’t imagine standing up as strong as they did. I see how much courage it took and how they had to fight for everything.
“I think the documentary affects the rowing world more now as opposed to Yale itself. My teammates always ask me to watch it, but most of my friends on campus don’t know much about it.”
Athletic history should not be forgotten, yet the fact that the documentary isn’t front-burner with Yale students is, in one way, a positive. Gilder Boathouse, double the size of the previous facility, opened in 2000.
“Basically everything is equal now,” Mazzio-Manson said. “The boathouse is incredible. We have our own tanks to train in during the winter. Our facilities are amazing.”
Growing up in Wellesley, Daisy said she would go out in small boats with her parents. Jay Manson competed at Trinity and is a former U.S. rowing team member. Mazzio never rowed before Mount Holyoke and it was Ernst who inspired her in a career that eventually took her to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
“I started when I was little, I wasn’t really rowing,” said Mazzio-Manson, a global affairs major. “I was paddling. Going through the college recruitment process was when I realized coaches wanted me. I didn’t think of myself as a very good rower before that.”
And choosing Yale?
“A lot of it honestly came from my mom,” Mazzio-Manson said. “She saw Yale has a history of strong women more so than some other schools. It impacted my decision. She loves that I’m here, but I think she loves the whole history of the story. There’s kind of a full circle to it.
“She also felt the school and the team would be perfect for me. The pieces have fallen into place perfectly.”