As you read this article, President Bush’s Commission on Equal Opportunity in Sports is meeting in Chicago, discussing the fate of Title IX. The committee is holding six public hearings across the country before submitting a final proposal in January 2003.
Title IX was passed in 1972 and requires federally funded educational institutions to grant equal opportunities to their male and female students. This must be executed through academics, athletics, funding and resources. Educational institutions were given 25 years to comply with the law.
Now, 30 years later, this groundbreaking law in American society is under attack.
While Title IX addresses inequities within educational institutions as a whole, the most tangible and controversial effect can be witnessed in sports. In 1972, 294,015 girls participated in high school sports and 31,852 in college-level sports. Today, over 2.7 million participate in high school athletics and just under 100,000 play in college.
Title IX author Honorable Birch Bayh said “Title IX is the most significant contribution to women’s equality since the ratification of the 19th Amendment.”
That statement may very well be true. The benefit of athletic participation for women and girls is fantastic. Through sports, women and girls are able to reap the benefits that for so long were only offered to men and boys. The ability to work with others, positive body image, experience with tangible success and loss, confidence and higher self-esteem have all been linked to playing sports.
The Women’s Sports Foundation reports in its May 1998 “Sport and Teen Pregnancy” study that teenage female athletes are less than half as likely as non-female athletes to become pregnant. And the 1989 Wilson Report states that young women who participate in sports are more likely to have academic success and graduate from high school than those who do not play sports.
Title IX clearly offers immense benefits to women and girls, but it also presents American society with benefits including stronger, more active and empowered women leaders. Mothers who first took advantage of Title IX now can actively urge their daughters and sons to participate in sports.
Because of this landmark law, young girls today do not think twice about walking onto a court or field to play sports.
The controversy that has arisen about Title IX is that it has now begun to discriminate against men. These allegations are rooted in funding cuts and, less likely, eliminating some men’s programs to create women’s programs. These situations are almost always found at the college level and are not to be blamed on Title IX.
Revenue from big collegiate sports like football and basketball often backs up the attacks against Title IX.
The interesting fact is that 78 percent of NCAA football teams spend more money than they make and 1/3 of Division I-A football programs run deficits of one million dollars or more.
Another excuse to hinder Title IX is that alumni donors give money in correlation with the success of sports teams. Again, the facts speak against this because the schools that receive the highest donations from alumni donors are Ivy-league schools which typically have less-than-fantastic sports programs.
As opposed to working with the law and the available funding, athletic directors and academic institutions begin to cut programs and funding and then hastily blame it on Title IX. Why not purchase new uniforms and equipment less frequently and use that money to support new and old programming? There are options that can be employed, and cutting men’s sports programs is not the answer, nor is it the intention of Title IX.
The goal of Title IX, as described by Dr. Donna Lopiano, “should be to bring the treatment of the group experiencing discrimination up to the level of the group that has received fair treatment, not to bring male athletes in minor sports down to the level of female athletes who simply were not provided with opportunities to play.”
As a former high school basketball player, I know that playing sports galvanized my self-confidence and trust in other women. All my life I had thrown myself into stereotypical female roles, and I was never taken seriously. Only when I felt the pressure of an upcoming three-second victory or the dependence my teammates and I shared did I step into the realm of self-confidence I had jealously coveted in boys.
As I watch my five younger sisters running down a field chasing a soccer ball or dribbling a basketball around the dinner table while setting it, I do not know what life in my family and many others would be like without Title IX. It has offered girls bonding experiences with their fathers that were once sacred to sons and has also offered an avenue of success that was unattainable for young girls and women before.
While debate as to how Title IX will be employed in the future is on-going and fearfully in the hands of Bush’s commission, there can be no debate of the positive effects Title IX has created in the lives of American women and culture.
Lauren Besser ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in Political Science and English and is vice president of Wisconsin NOW.