I’ve been playing sports my entire life. And for many of those years I took it for granted. It’s just what I did. I grew up swimming and water skiing, learning to do both at a very early age.
In third-grade I was on a softball team. We were pretty bad. But the skills I needed got me onto the high school junior varsity team.
At 10 I was hitting tennis balls and schussing down ski slopes. Things I continue to do today, especially tennis. I played four years of high school varsity tennis and year in college.
While first I must give credit to my parents for introducing me to all of these sports, it is the federal Title IX legislation that I must also give a huge nod to. It is an incredibly significant civil rights law.
This year marks the 50 years since Congress passed it on June 23, 1972.
The original statute was only 37 words. It said: “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.”
As is true with so many laws, it has been tweaked along the way. It is much longer now, including having been challenged in court more than once, with those rulings part of its definition.
Notice that the words sports and athletics are not in the original law.
In 1975 the Office for Civil Rights, a division within the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, was at the time tasked with enforcing Title IX. It clarified the sports question by saying, “No person shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, be treated differently from another person or otherwise be discriminated against in any interscholastic, intercollegiate, club or intramural athletics offered by a recipient, and no recipient shall provide any such athletics separately on such basis.”
The prior year Congress had adopted an amendment saying much the same thing.
The National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education in its Report Card on Gender Equity said this is what life was like prior to Title IX:
- Many schools and universities had separate entrances for male and female students.
- Female students were not allowed to take certain courses, such as auto mechanics or criminal justice; male students could not take home economics.
- Most medical and law schools limited the number of women admitted to 15 or fewer per school.
- Many colleges and universities required women to have higher test scores and better grades than male applicants to gain admission.
- Women living on campus were not allowed to stay out past midnight.
- Women faculty members were excluded from faculty clubs and encouraged to join faculty wives’ clubs instead.
- After winning two gold medals in the 1964 Olympics, swimmer Donna de Varona could not obtain a college swimming scholarship. For women they did not exist.
Despite the legislation inequities persist today.
In March 2021, headline after headline highlighted the disparities between men and women’s NCAA tournament amenities. The photos of the weight rooms for the two genders were startling.
It was also just last year that the U.S. Soccer Federation decided to offer the men and women’s national teams the same contract; as in equal pay. This, of course, is not an instance where Title IX can protect athletes. But it is relevant in that women are still fighting for equality at every level.
Title IX’s significance remains relevant. I shudder imagining what it would be like without this critical legislation. We must continue to ensure Title IX is enforced, not weakened. We owe thanks to those who made this law a reality. It has undoubtedly been instrumental in my life in ways I know I don’t fully appreciate.