Today, I taught the high school class during the Sunday School hour at my church. In an attempt to perfect the 21st century version of the parable, we started today’s discussion with hot topics for the past week. One of the hot topics was sports. Some of the news trending this past week in sports included the Miami Heat clinching the 2012 NBA Series title, former Penn State Assistant Coach Jerry Sandusky was found guilty of 45 of 48 counts of sexual misconduct, and the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials have started.
“There’s something else that happened this weekend that no one mentioned”, I said. After a short period of silence I was asked for a hint. My response, “The females in the room benefitted from this.” ….still no response. Then one of the male students said, “Oh yeah, there’s the 40th anniversary of something that impacted women in sports.” Correct. I explained to the students that on Saturday, we observed the 40th anniversary of the Title IX amendment. Needless to say most had not heard of the Title IX educational amendment, or understand its relevance in today’s world.
Of course they didn’t. Here’s a group of 14 to 17 year-olds who have never knew what it was like to not have a Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). By the way, the WNBA is 16 years old, and the Phoenix Mercury was one of the first teams to sign on. This came as a surprise to one student who mouthed, “The WNBA is only 16 years old?” Crossing the threshold of its 40th anniversary is a reminder that there are men and women in this country who are clueless as to how our public educational institutions operated prior to 1972. When I explained that females didn’t have the same opportunities to participate in sports as men, and they didn’t have opportunities to secure athletic scholarships for college, one of the male students shook his head and said, “That sucks!”
Title IX protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance. Title IX states [Ref 1]:
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.
According to U.S. Department of Education (DOE), agencies receiving Federal funds not only include local school districts, colleges and universities, but some for-profit schools as well as libraries and museums. Also included are vocational rehabilitation agencies and education agencies of 50 states, the District of Columbia, and territories and possessions of the United States.
Programs and activities which receive DOE funds must operate in a nondiscriminatory manner. These programs and activities may include, but are not limited to: admissions, recruitment, financial aid, academic programs, student treatment and services, counseling and guidance, discipline, classroom assignment, grading, vocational education, recreation, physical education, athletics, housing and employment. In other words, Title IX was designed to even the playing field for men and women in sports and academics.
It is noted that the original statute above made no explicit mention of sports. Yet, most person identify with sports or women athletic programs when asked about Title IX.
Fast forward to today. It is clear that Title IX has had an impact on women’s sports programs, but what impacts has it had on education? Also, what barriers remain?
Suffice it to say that even after then President Richard Nixon signed Title IX into law on June 23, 1972, things didn’t change overnight and it has been a slow but steady process of leveling the playing field for men and women. Women can now play basketball in high school, continue playing at the college level and even get scholarships, and then have a shot at competing for a spot in the WNBA. While the salaries of women professional basketball players lag that of their male counterparts in the WNBA, we are all happy that the WNBA has survived more than 1-1/2 decades. Many critics at the time didn’t think the league would last five years.
According to Debbie Yow, athletic director at North Carolina State University, “Title IX was the second-most important piece of civil rights legislation passed in this country. Had it not passed, the options and opportunities for women in this country and the world would be vastly different.”
Aside from the general health benefits of any physical activity, studies have shown that female athletes do better in school and have higher graduation rates. [Ref 2] In addition to the above, the well-cited 2002 survey by Oppenheimer Funds found that 82 percent of female business executives had played organized sports after elementary school.
“We compete every day in life, and it taught us how to in a healthy way,” Yow said. “In a more comprehensive way, it taught us how to lead.”
Female athletes are also less likely to smoke, use drugs or be suicidal. And, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation Report: Sport and Teen Pregnancy, published in 1998, teenage athletes were less than half as likely to get pregnant as non-athletes, and are more likely to delay having sex for the first time. What is also quite remarkable is that over the past 40 years, more women now attend college than men, and more women graduate with undergraduate, master and PhD degrees than men.
President Obama reminds us to not forget that Title IX isn’t just about sports. He goes on to say, “From addressing inequality in math and science education to preventing sexual assault on campus to fairly funding athletic programs, Title IX ensures equality for our young people in every aspect of their education. It’s a springboard for success: thanks in part to legislation like Title IX that more women graduate from college prepared to work in a much broader range of fields, including engineering and technology. I’ve said that women will shape the destiny of this country, and I mean it. The more confident, empowered women who enter our boardrooms and courtrooms, legislatures, and hospitals, the stronger we become as a country.”
“And that is what we are seeing today. Women are not just taking a seat at the table or sitting at the head of it, they are creating success on their own terms. The women who grew up with Title IX now pioneer scientific breakthroughs, run thriving businesses, govern states, and, yes, coach varsity teams. Because they do, today’s young women grow up hearing fewer voices that tell them “You can’t,” and more voices that tell them “You can.”” [Ref 3]
I don’t think anyone will argue that Title IX has not been good for this men and women in theU.S., and it has had a significant return on investment (ROI) over the past 40 years.
- U.S.Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, Title IX and Discrimination, Revised. August 1998, http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/tix_dis.html.
- As Title IX Turns 40, Legacy Goes Beyond Numbers, Huffington Post, June 21, 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/21/as-title-ix-turns-40-lega_n_1615334.html
- Op-ed by President Obama: President Obama Reflects on the Impact of Title IX, June 23, 2012. www.whitehouse.gov,