Reflecting on the Lessons of Title IX
Culture It was a watershed legislation that promised to fling open the doors to equality in sports. As one lifelong athlete suggests, the outcomes seen in the decades since may not be as rosy as we’d hoped.
In 1978, I was drafted to play in the Women’s Basketball League (WBL). A reporter asked if I thought my opportunity was because of Title IX. I scoffed at his question, saying Title IX had passed way back in 1972 and that this league was market-driven. Wow, was I wrong!
Confirming the duh
Yes, Congress did pass Title IX way back in 1972 to prohibit gender discrimination in federally-subsidized education, and, due to our uniquely American practice of imbedding sports in our schools, Title IX gave females the same right to school-funded sports programming as males.
45 years of fighting for and exercising this right has taught us a lot about our relationship to sport. We learned that lots of girls want to play: Of the 7.9 million high school students on sports teams, 3.3 million are girls. We found that many girls prefer different sports than boys: Almost a third are on volleyball, softball, competitive cheer and field hockey teams. In what now seems like a confirmation of the duh, we discovered that sports participation improves our well-being physically, socially and psychologically.
A profit-based problem?
“45 years of fighting for and exercising this right has taught us a lot about our relationship to sport.”
None of this progress kept me from spending the first half of my sporting life in a mad funk because girls’ sports were not treated like boys’ sports — or so it seemed from inside my basketball-centric bubble. The guys were on TV, in the sports pages, lavished with money, attention and celebrity, and we were ignored. Transitioning to volleyball showed me that most men’s sports are as invisible as women’s, both casualties of the same profit-driven marketplace which counts only eyeballs, not participants or passion.
I found these marginalized men’s sports often attributed their second-class status to Title IX, assuming the increase in athletics subsidies required to fund female participation would have occurred without the mandate, and that the new money would have gone to them.
Some lessons of our first 45 years were unwelcome — anterior cruciate ligament tears skew female by ten to one; Some were unanticipated — the fact that 62 percent of undergraduates are female pits Title IX compliance against survival at enrollment-driven colleges; And some were unpredicted — few of us became hardcore sports fans, and, when we did, we chose traditional men’s sports over women’s, thereby negating our impact on the advertising-driven sports marketplace.
Today most female athletes don’t know about Title IX; Discrimination is not gone, just less routine.
As to the future? I now marvel at the certainty I had in 1978.