Change You Can Believe In: Title IX
No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.
Title IX, June 23, 1972
For women who finished college before Title IX, the legislation was a game changer, allowing the next generation of women access to a lot of things they didn’t have access to -- not just sports, but college, scholarships, teamwork, careers. Our daughters would now have the same opportunities as our sons. They wouldn’t have to play half-court basketball or pretend lummi sticks or scooter boards were sports equipment. They wouldn’t have to play on the crappy fields, shower in substandard facilities, or wear hand-me-down uniforms. They weren’t limited to intramurals instead of interscholastic sports. They weren’t too fragile or too emotional for competition. Change like this doesn’t happen overnight, but 40 years later the world is filled with opportunities for young women that were denied their grandmothers and to some extent, their mothers.
The cover story of this week’s Sports Illustrated celebrates the 40th birthday of Title IX. A running timeline shows the landmark legal challenges to the legislation, and the story is filled with examples of what Title IX has meant not only to women’s sports, but to women’s progress in general. Research suggests, for example, that Title IX was a factor in the increased number of women who work full-time, many of them in jobs that used to be reserved for men. Research also suggests significant social benefits for girls who play sports. For example:
Girls who play sports in high school are more likely to do well in science classes than girls who don’t.
Girls who play team sports are likely to increase their level of self-esteem.
Girls who play high school sports are more likely to finish college than girls who don’t.
Girls who play high school sports are less likely to use drugs or become pregnant than girls who don’t.
Girls who play sports are less likely to become obese than girls who don’t.
As we look back over 40 years, the challenges to full implementation of Title IX were formidable. Some of them were the result of simple stubbornness and protection of turf; others were the result of sincere confusion about how best to equalize programs between girls and boys. I sat on the board of our local college as we wrestled with how to fully implement Title IX, and it wasn’t easy even among people committed to the principle. Some schools and colleges still aren’t fully there.
But it’s hard to argue with the enormous gains women have made thanks to Title IX. My granddaughters in elementary school would find it hard to believe that there were no sports opportunities for me in high school or college. That’s fine. Just 10 years after Title IX my daughter played soccer on a team of both boys and girls. They were losing at half time and the frustrated coach said to the team, “You’re playing like a bunch of girls!” My daughter said to him calmly, “No, Coach, we’re not that good.”