Presented by history and global studies teacher Diane Williams on June 10, 2012.
I want to start by saying how honored I am to be on this panel with so many people that inspire and motivate me to work in the field of social justice, sports, and politics. I am going to talk mostly about Title IX, but I am happy to discuss the decrease of women in sport media later.
I am a “Title IX baby.” I am of a generation of girls and women, born after Title IX , who had opportunities to play sports in school. I started playing in high school—volleyball, basketball, and track and field, and never looked back.
I am from a generation that often takes sports for granted, ignorant of Title IX and the discrimination women faced in the not-so-distant past. In some ways, this sense of entitlement is great, for young women expect to have opportunities to play, and parents support this. However, there are many schools not in compliance with Title IX, and little enforcement of the law. Additionally, with the current political trend of “retro” women’s issues coming up for discussion in Congress, I would encourage us to educate ourselves and prepare to defend Title IX, again
Passed 40 years ago this month, Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972, has been called the most important act for gender equity since women’s suffrage. It was designed to address discrimination against women in high school and college educational activities—including sports. With regard to sports, Title IX covers issues, including but not limited to: equal scholarship dollars, sexual harassment by coaches/peers in athletics, amount and quality of media coverage, girls playing on boys’ teams (and vice versa), pay equity in coaching, retaliation for championing the rights of female athletes, pregnancy discrimination, and equal treatment for male and female athletes.
Regulated by the Office of Civil Rights, to be Title IX compliant a school must meet a three part test. Simplified, the test requires that schools provide:
1. Financial aid that is proportionate to the ratio of male and female students.
2. Sports and sports opportunities that fit students interests and abilities, and that expand with increasing demand. (and)
3. All other benefits, opportunities, and treatments for male and female athletes that are equivalent, not necessarily identical.
In the years since Title IX passed, there has been a huge expansion of girls and women in sports. Prior to 1972, there were only about 16,000 female intercollegiate athletes; today there are 200,000. In high schools, there is one girl to every 1.4 boy participating in sports.
Why does sport participation for girls matter? Research has shown that involvement in sports leads to physical and mental health benefits, reduction in teen pregnancy, increase in confidence, lower rates of drug use, higher rates of graduation, lower risk of breast cancer, and higher grades. In short, sports are great for girls… and boys!
Yet, there is backlash and scapegoating of Title IX. There is a common myth that sport opportunities are a zero-sum situation, where adding women’s sports necessarily means eliminating men’s sports. This is not true, and the focus needs to be redirected to athletic department priorities and their resource distribution.
So, has this huge increase in female sports teams led to more women in coaching? In short, no. In fact, the number of female coaches of women’s collegiate teams has dropped from over 90 percent pre-Title IX, to 42.9 percent in 2012. There are many explanations for this, but no single answer. (I am happy to talk more about this later.)
Like a feisty 12-year-old soccer star, Title IX has been challenged and chased down, but the law remains. Girls and boys expect to play sports, and benefit from this participation, but we must be vigilant. Title IX is about equal treatment and opportunity for all. We must continue to fight to protect it for all the young people in our lives.
This speech was delivered as a part of the How Sports Shapes our Politics and Why It Matters, at the Netroots Nation conference in Providence, RI, June 7-10, 2012. You can watch the panel.