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National NOW Times >> Spring 2003 >> Article

Bush Administration Trying to Bench Female Athletes

by Nicole Casta, NOW Foundation Government Relations Associate

Activists protest the so-called Commission on Opportunities in Athletics, which is proposing a drastic reversal of the progress made by Title IX.
Activists protest the so-called Commission on Opportunities in Athletics, which is proposing a drastic reversal of the progress made by Title IX. Photo by Suzannah Porter

Last summer, the Bush Administration set up the misnamed Commission on Opportunities in Athletics to "analyze" Title IX, the widely supported federal law that bans sex discrimination in federally funded schools and colleges, and its implementation with regard to athletic programs. The commission was stacked with opponents of Title IX—its real purpose apparently to provide cover for the dismantling of Title IX and the opportunities that it ensures for women and girls.

Throughout the fall and winter, the Commission staged regional town hall meetings at which Title IX critics were given plenty of time to speak while supporters were regularly refused that opportunity.

Now the Commission has recommended a series of complicated but deadly changes to the Title IX standards—changes that will devastate girls' and women's sports programs. Although the Commission wants the public to believe that these changes are "moderate," they will drastically limit the opportunities available to girls and women in athletics. Women's sports experts say that under some of the proposals, girls would lose several hundred thousand high school athletic opportunities and tens of millions of dollars each year in college athletic scholarships.

The Commission's radical recommendations include:

  • Creating loopholes that allow schools to misrepresent (by not counting some students) both the number of opportunities that they are providing and the number of slots that they should be providing to female athletes.

  • Allowing schools to use "interest surveys" to prove that more men than women are interested in sports. Surveys can only assess the level of interest girls have based on previous exposure to sports, not the interest they might have with expanded opportunities.

  • Authorizing private slush funds that increase the financial support for men's teams at the expense of women's teams.

  • Giving the Secretary of Education carte blanche to identify "additional ways of demonstrating compliance with Title IX" that could give high schools and colleges even more ways to avoid equal opportunities in the spirit of Title IX—ways that were not even presented to the Commissioners.
April Osajima, public policy director at Girls Inc., spoke at a press conference organized by NOW to get the truth out about Title IX.
April Osajima, public policy director at Girls Inc., spoke at a press conference organized by NOW to get the truth out about Title IX.Photo by Lisa Bennett
Bush's commission is headed in the wrong direction. Strengthening enforcement of Title IX, not weakening it, is the right prescription for providing girls and women with equal opportunity in athletics and education. Since Title IX's passage thirty years ago, much progress has been made, but high school girls currently have 1.1 million fewer opportunities to play sports than their male peers and $133 million less per year in athletic scholarships once they get to college, according to a recent report from the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education. And these numbers would only worsen under the Commission-recommended changes.

To keep the ball moving in the right direction, get involved with your local schools. Find out if your school has appointed the required Title IX coordinator, and what her or his efforts have been to ensure compliance. Make sure that your school keeps moving towards equality and does not backpedal. Urge your state leaders to adopt provisions protecting athletic equity.

And lastly, when the Bush Administration uses the Commission's recommendations to eviscerate Title IX, join NOW in raising the alarm—don't let him bench our daughters, sisters and friends!

For further information, check out NOW's website where you'll find up to date Title IX information and a questionnaire you can use to make sure your local high school is in compliance. Also see the websites of the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education, the Women's Sports Foundation, and the National Women's Law Center.

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