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TITLE IX: Girl Power
Thirty years later, the effects of Title Nine are sweeping educational reform and can be seen everywhere from schoolyards to the Olympic arena.
By Laura Dayton
Published: Fall 2001

Let's try an experiment in time travel. It's the best way to understand how Title IX - the 1972 educational reform prohibiting discrimination in sports based on gender - came to pass, and why its sweeping ramifications took so long to take effect.
If you can, think back thirty years ago when the news making headlines in the United States revolved around the Vietnam War. Flags and bras were being burned, and the Democratic National Convention took place against a backdrop of mayhem and murder. Women and African Americans escalated their fights for equal rights, and slowly, small skirmishes were being won.
On the congressional floor hundreds of issues were being debated. Amid the furor over the major feminist concerns of equal pay and the right to choose, perhaps the 1972 Congress believed an amendment regarding young women's interscholastic and intercollegiate sports would be an insignificant concession. At the time, most people (women included) did not believe women could excel at sports the way men did.
The popular mindset was that college was a great place for women to get her M.R.S. (read "wife"), and soon after, she'd be having babies, not spiking balls, making goals and vaulting over 14-foot-high bars. Such thinking likely caused many an old codger to grin in secret delight that a "little" educational amendment would placate the feminists yet result in relatively little impact on the status quo.
So, on June 23, 1972, with little controversy, President Richard Nixon signed into law the Educational Amendment Title IX, which contained a section prohibiting discrimination against girls and women in federally funded education, including sports. Like a snowball on a downhill run, what seemed insignificant at the beginning created an avalanche that has completely changed the status of women in sports today.
If those old codgers are still alive, I bet they're not grinning now.

The Sydney Games

Let's return to the present. The recent Sydney Olympics were a shining example of the dramatic changes made possible by Title IX. The opening ceremonies set the mood when Cathy Freeman was handed the torch from a series of her Australian countrywomen (who had all been Olympic athletes) and took center stage against a backdrop of shimmering water and flame. The moment was a deliberate celebration of the female athlete, and with more women participating and breaking records than ever before, that celebratory feeling carried through the entire Games.
Did Title IX have any Olympic influence? Just ask Dot Richardson, who with her teammates won gold in the first-ever women's Olympic softball competition at the 1996 Games, and gold again at the 2000 Games. When she was 10, Dot's exceptional playing was noticed by a Little League coach, who asked if she wanted to be on his team. Sure she did! But the coach said they'd have to cut her hair short and they'd call her "Bob." Later, after Title IX was in place, Dot went on to become a four-time All-American in college and was named NCAA player of the decade for the 1980s. Do you think that would have happened without Title IX?
And just ask Cheryl Miller, who won an Olympic gold in 1984 for women's basketball. "Without Title IX, I'd be nowhere," she admits. In 1972, there were only 132,299 girls playing basketball in high school. Twenty years later that figure had more than tripled. Now women's basketball is receiving the attention it deserves, especially after the thrilling wins by the U.S. team in the 1996 and 2000 Games, and the resulting development of women's professional basketball.
Although there are still areas of inequity, the increase in public support of girls' and women's sports has had innumerable positive effects. The media is giving female athletic stars equal attention, and young girls at last have as many role models as boys have. Sports that were once seen as essentially men's territory - lacrosse, wrestling, rugby and ice hockey - are increasingly attracting women participants. After a World Cup championship and a gold medal at the 1996 Olympics (and a silver in 2000), U.S. women's soccer is now rocking the athletic world with professional teams and generating incredible excitement among spectators and future players.

The Way It Was

For women, the Olympic dream has been a long time coming. When the first Games were held in ancient Greece, only men could compete. Although the very concept of democracy - government by the people - was born in Greece, the privilege didn't extend to women. Universal inclusion was an idea whose time was yet to come (and still is, judging from the ongoing battles between differing ideologies around the globe). Women were relegated to the role of spectators in the original Olympic events and in most events of any consequence, and that was the way things stood until the second quarter of the twentieth century.
By then, suffragettes had won voting rights for women in many western countries, and the world hadn't come to an end. Apparently, in 1928 the time was right to give a nod to women athletes. So in Amsterdam, a city considered liberal by most standards, the stage was set for the first women Olympians in gymnastics and track and field. The longest event for women was the 800-meter race, won by Lina Radke of Germany. As the athletes crossed the finish line, several of the competitors collapsed to the ground in exhaustion, a result not uncommon among male competitors too.
In response to this, the Olympic officials, who were aghast at subjecting "the weaker sex" to such an ordeal, immediately withdrew the 800-meter as an event and the event wasn't reinstated for 32 years. The 100-meter remained the only track event for women other than the hurdles until 1948, when the 200-meter was added. By 1960 there was no way to deny that women were tough enough to compete in longer events, and the women's 800 meter was reinstated, with the 1,500 meter following in 1972, smack on the heels of the enactment of Title IX.

Title IX's
Slow-Growing Tsunami

As for myself, I was already in my second year of college when Title IX passed. I grew up with three brothers, so I was lucky that sports and an active, physical lifestyle were always a part of my life. For most of my classmates, sports weren't "cool." Some of these women today wage their own wars with obesity, underachievement and low self-esteem - all factors that an active lifestyle and participation in sports can ease or eliminate.
Considering that in 1972, schools had virtually no organized female sport programs, Title IX would take many years to put into effect. As late as the 1970s, girls' sports not only were neglected, they were often actively discouraged. In the government publication "Title IX: 25 Years of Progress," it was cited that "In 1971 a Connecticut judge was allowed by law to disallow girls from competing on a boys' high school cross country team even though there was no girls' team at the school. And that same year, fewer than 300,000 high school girls played interscholastic sports. Today [1997], that number is 2.4 million."
Legislative efforts to sabotage the original intent of the amendment were waged almost yearly until 1980, when the Department of Education was established and given the responsibility to oversee the implementation of Title IX through the Office for Civil Rights. From that point, Title IX began to work its magic, slowly though, as most social reforms do. Understanding Title IX's impact requires us to look not just at the burgeoning statistics in female sport participation but also at the mindset of the young women athletes of today.
While sports have created the most controversy regarding Title IX, the gains in education and academics from the amendment are also noteworthy. Title IX bans sex discrimination in athletics and academics. Before then, many schools saw no problem in refusing to admit women or in imposing strict lim


On June 23, 1972, with little controversy, President Richard Nixon signed into law the Educational Amendment Title IX, which contained a section prohibiting discrimination against girls and women in federally funded education, including sports.
At the 2000 Sydney games, Cathy Freeman was handed the torch from a series of her Australian countrywomen (who had all been Olympic athletes). The moment was a deliberate celebration of the female athlete, and with more women participating and breaking records than ever before, that celebratory feeling carried through the entire Games.
When she was 10, Dot Richardsonsí exceptional playing was noticed by a Little League coach, who asked if she wanted to be on his team. Sure she did! But the coach said they'd have to cut her hair short and they'd call her "Bob." Later, after Title IX was in place, Dot went on to become a four-time All-American in college and was named NCAA player of the decade for the 1980ís
The USA defeated China in the 1999 Word Cup and soon afterward won silver in the 2002 Sydney games.
LeeAnn Pekovitch (Spring 2000) is a multi sport athlete who gave girls in Malta, MT a great role model.
Martinsville High School, IN, has found remarkable success by unifying their weightroom programs. As a result, the womenís athletic programs have also seen remarkable success.
Billy Jean King

Return to Fall 2001 Articles


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