Bear with me for a brief but essential women’s history lesson.
In 1972, at the peak of the women’s rights movement, US Congress passed legislation known as Title IX. Title Nine outlawed sex discrimination in federally financed education programs – in simple terms, it became illegal for schools that received government funding to spend more on programs for boys than girls. The biggest transformation occurred in girls’ sports at the college and high school levels.
In 1972, I was seven. Sports were for boys; girls’ sports overall were a joke. Not in my family, however. My mom had played three varsity sports at Radcliffe and could still place a mean tennis, lacrosse or basket ball (not to mention a high-heeled shoe when we kids misbehaved).
Within 10 years after Title Nine passed, girls’ recreational and competitive soccer, softball, volleyball, lacrosse and swimming grew to offer girls the teamwork, character-building and physical outlets endemic to athletics. Over the next 40 years, the number of female collegiate athletes increased more than 500 percent, from less than 30,000 in 1972 to more than 186,000 a year today.
In other words, within a remarkably short time, a wrong was righted.
Title Nine has been a very good thing for girls. Not just in high school and college, but in life. Which was the whole point of Title Nine legislation.
Example: I recently had lunch with three women from the 1979 University of Pennsylvania tennis team. Three decades after graduation, the teammates are still close friends, playing tennis together almost once a week. One became a lawyer. Another excelled in marketing. The third has become a well-known sports journalist. They all serve on a charity board dedicated to funding women’s sports at Penn today.
Arguably, their lives would have been less rich, and less productive, without Title IX. There would not have been a Penn women’s tennis team without Title Nine. Sports brought new opportunities to these women and thousands of others; sports brought women together and empowered them.
So I found particularly disturbing a recent New York Times article probing the deceit among college athletic departments “College Teams, Relying on Deception, Undermine Gender Equity”. According to review of more than 20 college and universities, including Ivy League schools and top state universities, athletic departments engage in rampant corruption to thwart the equal resource allocation underpinning Title Nine.
Some schools illegally count men as female athletes. Other double and triple count female athletes. Other schools simply lie outright. Formal monitoring is rare; most numbers are self-reported. Some excuse the bias by arguing that women prefer a range of sports, include non-team activities such as hiking and yoga, that don’t require extensive funding. Many sources seem to agree that the big problem is college football, which rakes in alumni donations and applications, and which has no female equivalent to balance the scales.
Whatever the cause, the bottom line is that gender discrimination has crept back into sports and athletic funding in our culture.
Sports are a public good — for everyone who wants to play or watch them. Athletic involvement provides camaraderie, health benefits, and myriad longterm careers in a lucrative segment of our economy (think of the money spent on tickets to sporting events, television advertising, and the thickness of your local paper’s sports section). No individual, college athletic department, or government who understands the power of sports can in good conscience proactively, illegally deny 50% of the population the right to compete on a level playing field. Athletic discrimination is just as vile as “colored only” water fountains.
It’s time to look into Title Nine again.