Title IX: a retrospective glance

Title IX stands with the 19th Amendment and Roe v. Wade in the significance of its effect on women and its role in American life. This section of the Education Amendments of 1972 requires equality for girls and women in federally funded school and college athletic programs, and has, for 31 years, challenged this nation’s historic disregard for the abilities and talents of its female population. It has provided today’s young women with educational, athletic and life opportunities that their mothers never had.

Despite the role that Title IX has played in increasing girls’ participation in high school varsity sports more than tenfold, and women’s participation in intercollegiate sports almost five-fold, a Secretary of Education committee – the Equal Opportunities in Athletics Commission – recently announced proposed changes to Title IX that would slow or possibly reverse the move toward equality that it has fostered.

We have come too far to let Title IX fall by the wayside. Our generation of young women has grown up with strong, beautiful, intelligent, athletic female role models and has had the opportunity to positively influence the next generation. Over the last 10 years, girls and boys have cheered enthusiastically as women, as well as men, have taken the field/court on professional sports teams.

Boys on baseball teams at parks all over the country have learned through experience that the harangue “you throw like a girl” should be considered a compliment, not an insult. Thousands of girls go running, not to look good in tights, but for the love of the sport.

Increasingly, though not entirely, equal access to high school and college sports for girls and women has had a profound impact on this country. Hundreds of thousands of girls now grow up knowing the physical, mental and interpersonal benefits of athletics.

The opportunity to develop life skills such as teamwork, strategy, stamina and self-confidence was once all but limited to boys; over the last 30 years, Title IX has increasingly opened this opportunity to girls.

These girls will grow up to be strong, successful women in large part because of the opportunities afforded them by sports to challenge themselves physically and mentally, to practice teamwork and to understand commitment.

Although young women are still indoctrinated by media images of dangerously thin women, these images are beginning to have to share the stage with images of healthy, strong, athletic women. Girls who take part in sports learn to appreciate their bodies for what they can accomplish athletically – on the court or field or in the gym.

They learn to see value in themselves that does not come from what others think. This effect of sports on body image and self-confidence has helped many girls to avoid or overcome eating disorders, leave abusive relationships and demand the respect that they deserve.

Being on a team with a girl, or having a girlfriend or sister who plays sports, has helped many boys develop respect for the “gentle sex” and what its members can accomplish.

Learning to rely on a girl to make the out at first or to get the tackle prepares boys for working with women at jobs and in life. This early development of respect for women in a boy’s life cannot help but reduce family violence, sexual abuse, and gender discrimination.

We have just begun to see the impact that Title IX can have. The effects of increasing women’s equality in federally-funded athletics reaches far beyond sports. Equality fosters respect, and increased respect has the potential to touch every aspect of society.

Women and men, girls and boys have gained too much from Title IX and have too much left to gain to tolerate anything that would weaken it. We must make it clear to the Equality in Athletics Commission and to Athletic Directors across the country that Title IX is not about what sport a girl gets to play, but about what kind of life she gets to lead.