Minority girls in Massachusetts have fewer chances to play high school sports than white girls and fewer than boys of any race, according to a new national report.
Heavily minority schools, on average, offer fewer than half as many spots on teams compared with heavily white schools and they give about 60 percent of those spots to boys, says the report, released by the National Women’s Law Center and the Poverty & Race Research Action Council.
In Massachusetts, 6 percent of heavily white schools and 27 percent of heavily minority schools showed large gaps in athletic opportunities.
In Alabama and Mississippi, the states where researchers found the greatest disparities, about 35 percent of heavily white schools and about 80 percent of heavily minority schools had large gaps.
“People might expect that somewhere like Massachusetts might be a little better off than some of the states in the South,” researcher Katherine Gallagher Robbins said. “But the racial disparity in Massachusetts, to me, was particularly striking. The problem is almost five times worse at heavily minority schools.”’
Nationwide, researchers found that 40 percent of heavily minority schools had large “female opportunity gaps,” while 16 percent of majority-white schools did.
The disparities could have long-term health consequences.
The report cites studies that show athletics reduce a woman’s chance of developing breast cancer, osteoporosis, heart disease, and other illnesses and are associated with lower rates of smoking, drug use, teen pregnancy, and obesity.
Participation in sports also increases the likelihood of high school graduation and college attendance and improves employment outcomes, according to the report.
The researchers also suggest that many schools may be in violation of Title IX, the law prohibiting sex discrimination in federally funded schools, including in athletics.
The findings are disappointing but predictable, said Michael Rubin, who advises the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association and the Massachusetts Secondary School Administrators’ Association on efforts to improve minority inclusion.
“That doesn’t surprise me, not at all,” said Rubin, a Mattapan resident who coached basketball at East Boston High School for 24 years and served as that school’s headmaster for a decade.
Rubin said that when he was at East Boston High, the school lacked athletic programs that more affluent schools offered, including golf, lacrosse, skiing, and wrestling.
But some students, he said, also had little interest in sports or time for extracurricular activities.
“A lot of the kids in the inner city, they’re dealing with financial problems and their parents are often working,” he said. “Most of them are coming up in single-parent households . . . and the kids are not exposed to sports at an early age like kids in the suburbs would be.”
As students mature, Rubin said, many rush home after school to care for younger siblings or head to jobs to help support their families.
John McDonough, Boston’s interim superintendent, said in a statement to the Globe that the department places “a high premium” on the benefits of athletics and “prides itself on its growing athletic opportunities for our students, including our investment in the Boston Scholar Athletes program.”
With support from that program, McDonough said, the school department has expanded sports opportunities for students to within 7 percent of the national average and increased “actual participation in athletics, especially at the high school level, for both our female and male students.”
A spokeswoman for the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said it had just learned of the report and had not had an opportunity to review the data.
“We look forward to continuing discussions with the US Department of Education and the US Department of Justice about Title IX,” Jacqueline Reis, the spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.
Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.