Title IX: Gender Equality Still Needs Work

On June 23rd, 1972, the President signed Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 into law. It states that

“…No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance…”

Its tenants have been felt most significantly in the area of ensuring the rights of females to participate equally in sports offered in the public schools by equalizing resources spent on girls’ and boys’ athletics. Nationally, its effect was dramatic: the proportion of high school girls in sports went from 1/27 in 1972 to 1/4 in 1978, while the proportion of boys in sports held steady at 1/2.

So, if it’s an “educational amendment,” how did it find its way into sports?

Girls who participate in sports excel in academics, lead healthier lives and succeed in employment as adults. In fact, “girls who play sports in high school earn higher wages working as adults and those who play in college more often reach top management positions.”kim-turner This means that participation in sports is job training for girls, says Kim Turner, staff attorney with Fair Play for Girls in Sports.

Ground-breaking work done by University of Pennsylvania economist Betsey Stevenson calculates that sports participation through Title IX is associated with:

  • 0.4 years more education and 8% higher wages, after controlling for student’s ability.
  • a 3% rise in women’s college attendance, and a 2 percentage point rise in the probability of getting a four-year degree.
  • a 2% increase in women’s employment.
  • a 1.5% increase in the numbers of women in male-dominated fields.
  • a 1.3% increase in women’s wages in states with high enforcement.

What Does Title IX require?

  1. Across sports programming, male and female athletes must have the same participation opportunities, meaning that 50% of team slots are for girls and 50% are for boys so there are an equal number of each actively participating.
  2. In their sports, males and females must have equivalent treatment and benefits which include:
  • Equipment and supplies
  • Game and practice schedules
  • Travel and per diem allowances
  • Facilities for practices and games
  • Medical/training room facilities and treatment
  • Coaching compensation and quality
  • Locker room provisions
  • Housing/dining facilities and services
  • Publicity

3. A school or school district may not retaliate against a person who files a complaint about gender inequalities in the athletic program. Benching a player or firing a coach after inequality concerns are raised would be examples of such retaliation.

If any of these inequalities exist at your school or if they are in play for a community sports program which uses public school fields or federally funded park facilities, Title IX says that’s discrimination. If organizations are non-compliant, they may be liable to legal action.

How far have we come?

SHS softballI realize now that I was a beneficiary of the Title IX legislation and never knew it at the time. I am grateful to proponents who fought for this legislation when girls in sports like me didn’t realize we were being treated unequally. I took for granted that it was okay …

  • when the boys baseball team had a dugout and girls softball team had a bench.
  • when the local sports club I played on a girls team for was named a “boys club” and not a “boys and girls club.”
  • when there was only one softball team to tryout for and I had to wait until I was 8 years old, but my brother had his choice of teams when he was 6 or 7 years old.
  • when I was the only girl on the boys high school golf team and classmates laughed that I had shoes for golfing.

The message I didn’t know I was getting was: “It’s okay to have less.” “There’s no need to demand equality.” “Sports are for boys.”  These weren’t verbalized. More often they were absences. Now I realize that …

  • I never saw a female umpire until I became one.
  • I almost never had a female coach until I became one.
  • I never dreamed of a college sports scholarship until I was offered one.
  • I never imagined a career preventing injuries to female athletes until I created one.

Where are we now?

USWNT team photoSome members of the US Women’s National Soccer Team have filed a lawsuit against US Soccer raising issues I would never have known to ask in the 1970s. In today’s sound bytes, the legal battle is waged around “Equal Pay for Equal Play.” But, in light of the details of the Title IX legislation, if federal legislation requires that men and women in sports have equivalent treatment and benefits wouldn’t it be right for these need to be equalized?  for instance…

  • Travel and per diem allowances – if men travel first class and women travel coach?
  • Facilities for practices and games – if women play on dis-repaired turf and men on manicured grass?
  • Coaching compensation and quality – what proportion of Jurgen Klinsman’s salary does Jill Ellis make?
  • Publicity – coverage? newsprint? advertising dollars?

Why are these so disparate? I salute the USWNT for raising this issue and bringing it to the attention of our sports-loving, but gender-teetering society. Otherwise, we might take for granted that separate is equal. It rarely is.

If our girls and boys stand to gain equally from participating in sports, we need to administer them equally. Equality under the law isn’t based on what our performance earns, it’s based on what our potential holds. We are investing in what both boys and girls can do and will become. Participation in sports is a healthy and proven approach to educating our young people and paving a way to their brighter future.

How do we stand today?

“The research clearly states that when anybody, boys or girls, are physically active, they can reap developmental and health benefits,” according to Nicole LaVoi, Associate Director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota, “but we haven’t reached equality yet.”

Stevenson’s research finds that about 1/3 of today’s high school girls play sports compared with about 1/2 of the boys. These percentages are much lower in some states. There is still work to be done.

If we believe what reports tell us, that sport gives girls confidence, builds self esteem, improves academic performance, and increases healthy behaviors, it would seem that sports participation is something today’s girls (and boys) shouldn’t be without. It’s not only job training, it’s life training.

How Can We Balance Sporting Opportunities for Girls and Boys?

  1. Use active recruitment strategies. Do more than put up flyers for girls sporting opportunities. Extend personal invitations. Girls want to play.
  2. Encourage girls to find a sport they like. It may not be the same as boys’.
  3. Support sports organizations with your time and financial resources.
  4. Become a coach, official or administrator. Mentor other women in these roles.
  5. Ensure fairness in pay for women professionals in these roles.
  6. Invite female coaches to train boys’ teams so boys have an example of strong, influential sporting females.
  7. Mentor and reward female coaches (not just teams composed of female players).
  8. Support female athletes by attending their games. Take girls to women’s professional games.
  9. Demand zero tolerance for sexual harassment in sporting or other environments.
  10. If you see or experience inequalities in a school or rec athletic program, challenge them.

Thanks, Title IX. We’ll keep up the good work.

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