Celebrating the Victories of Title IX and Taking on the Remaining Athletics Gender Gap

By Ashley Braun, Public Policy Intern, and Renata Maniaci, Government Relations Intern

In honor of the 25th annual celebration of National Girls and Women in Sports Day on Feb. 2, the NOW interns decided to take a personal look at the law that has benefited so many women. Signed into law in 1972, Title IX created major changes in our education system such that women and girls found new opportunities both in classrooms and on athletic fields. The law famously states:

“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…” — United States Code Section 20, sec. 1681

Interestingly, although Title IX is best known for its impact on high school and collegiate athletics, the original statute made no explicit mention of sports. Still, we know that in the days before Title IX, only one in 27 girls played varsity high school sports. Since its enactment, however, female high school athletic participation has increased by 904 percent, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation.

As members of a generation who attended school three decades after the adoption of Title IX, the interns of NOW decided to share personal memories of how it may or may not have impacted them:

“In my school, you were an outcast if you didn’t play a sport every season. We had a girls’ and boys’ team for everything, except cheerleading – and boys could (and did) join cheerleading.”

– Caitlyn Hill, PAC Intern, Russell, N.Y., graduated high school in 2005

“In my school they always put the modifier ‘lady’ before any team or event concerning girls. I never understood it. It would be ridiculous to cheer the ‘gentlemen Chargers’, so why use ‘lady’? Putting the modifier on the team name negated the team itself.”

– Kirstin Meeder, Field Intern, Chicago, Ill., graduated high school in 2008

“I used to play football everyday at recess from second through fifth grade. I liked it; I had a lot of fun. I was the only girl — but that didn’t matter — I still played like everyone else. When I got to middle school, I guess I was just naturally socialized into playing other sports like basketball and volleyball. I don’t think I ever tried to fight to play football with the boys, but now I wonder why I didn’t.”

– Renata Maniaci, Government Relations Intern, Sturgeon Bay, Wis., graduated high school in 2005.

“In my junior high there was no girls’ soccer team. Plenty of girls wanted to play — as was evident by the number who joined out-of-school premier soccer clubs — but there was no school team for us girls. And I’m not talking about a few years after Title IX; this was the late 90s. I ended up trying out for the boys’ soccer team and making it. Many other girls did not. We weren’t even aware of the injustice; that was just the way it was.”

– Ashley E. Braun, Public Policy Intern, Holland, Mass., graduated high school in 2002

“In our local paper you could just tell. The sports journalist would do so many features on the football team. The girls wouldn’t get that much attention unless they’d had a barn-burner of a season (Iowan slang for an amazing season). The women’s teams would have to be going to state, or undefeated to garner as much attention as the boy’s teams with losing seasons did. It never made sense to me.”

– Kellyn Passas, Atlantic, Iowa, Fundraising Intern, graduated high school in 2007

Diverse as our recollections are, they suggest that inequality is still widespread in high school athletics. Though progress is evident, a very focused and determined effort by the U.S. Department of Education, state governments and local school districts needs to be made to assure equal access. It will soon be 40 years since Title IX was enacted, and even now we see case after case being filed for blatant sex discrimination in high school athletics.

On Nov. 10, the National Women’s Law Center filed complaints alleging that 12 school districts across the country violated Title IX by failing to provide high school girls with equal opportunities to play sports. According to Marcia Greenberger, president of the National Women’s Law Center, that is just “the tip of the iceberg in terms of sex discrimination in sports.”

Data reported to the U.S. Department of Education on participation in high school sports reveals that gender gaps can be as high as 33 percentage points, with many exceeding 10 percentage points.

Statistics show that girls thrive when they participate in sports. The National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education reports that they are less likely to get pregnant, drop out of school, use drugs, smoke or develop mental illness. Yet, because of the ongoing inequity between girls’ and boys’ sports teams, high school girls only receive 41 percent of all athletic opportunities, which directly translates to a disparity of 1.3 million opportunities.

NOW President Terry O’Neill says these lost opportunities are a detriment, not only for the girls who should be benefiting from them, but for the nation as a whole: “When girls and women are not given equal opportunities to realize their full potential, in education and in athletics, everyone loses.”

So on this National Girls and Women in Sports Day, we join with the Women’s Sports Foundation to honor the work of advocates and athletes who have accomplished so much. We also recognize the battles that must still be fought if all girls and women are to enjoy the full benefits that athletics have to offer. Today, let’s celebrate our past victories and also recommit ourselves to the pursuits of future equality!

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