50 Years of Title IX; Progress, but More Work to Do

Photo via: AP Photos/ Eric Gay https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2021/04/01/womens-sports-growth-ratings-business/

As a former female college athlete, I would be remiss to not acknowledge the 50th Anniversary of Title IX coming in June of 2022. My ability to participate in sports throughout my middle and high school years and then into college is a direct result of the changes brought about by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (“Title IX”). Many academic institutions and corporations, such as The Walt Disney Company, are announcing their plans to commemorate and celebrate the 50th Anniversary.[1] The everlasting and important lessons learned through participation in sports are innumerable and important. Over the last 50 years, Title IX has opened the door to females to learn these lessons by providing more access to opportunities in sports for women. 

Title IX prohibits sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, and gender identity) discrimination in any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.[2] Title IX protections apply to recruitment of students, admissions, educational programs, research, housing, counseling, financial and employment assistance, health and insurance benefits and health services.[3] Title IX specifically states, “no person shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any academic, extracurricular, research, occupational training, or other education program or activity operated by a recipient which receives . . . federal financial assistance.”[4]

The statistics do not lie. Title IX has greatly contributed to an increase in female participation in sports throughout the United States. Before the enactment of Title IX, in 1972 the number of females participating in college and high school sports was just over 300,000.[5] By 2012, this number rose to above 3 million, with more than 190,000 women competing in college athletics.[6] The Women’s Sports Foundation has released studies reporting on the increase of women’s involvement in sports since the passage of Title IX. According to one of the studies, in 2016 one in every five girls played sports in the United States, while this statistic was one in every 27 before the passage of Title IX.[7] Further, 2 percent of college athletic budgets were dedicated to female athletes, and scholarships for these female athletes were sparse and, in many cases, nonexistent prior to Title IX.[8] The increase in participation does not stop in college athletics, but Title IX’s impact is seen at the Olympic level as well. In 1972, the United States Olympic team of 428 athletes consisted of 90 women. In 2016, 292 women competed for the United States out of a team of 555.[9] Today, 109 women are competing in the Beijing Winter Games out of a total of 224 athletes. Title IX’s impact on female participation in sports over the last 50 years is evident from these statistics.

While there has been considerable change in the last 50 years resulting from the enactment of Title IX, there is still so much more work to do. When testifying to Congress, Megan Rapinoe stated, “one cannot simply outperform inequality or be excellent enough to escape discrimination of any kind.”[10] As female participation in sports rises, the disparities in treatment at certain times become more apparent. For example, there were significant disparities in the treatment of female athletes at the 2021 NCAA March Madness tournament as compared to their male counterparts in terms of proper equipment and facilities. While this treatment was not a violation of Title IX, as previously reported here (“Hey, NCAA, This Looks Bad…Really Bad” March 19, 2021), it demonstrates the need for improvement across certain organizations and that inequality among male and female athletes still exists. The NCAA Senior Vice President of basketball, Dan Gavitt, and the NCAA Senior Vice President of women’s basketball, Lynn Holzman issued apologies to the athletes and vowed to do better in the future.[11]

Another example occurred just yesterday, February 6th, when a columnist from the Toronto Star Sports suggested women’s ice hockey should be removed from the Olympics because the United States and Canadian teams always end up competing against each other for the gold medal.[12] This article has received significant attention on Twitter and social media in the past 24 hours. One comment, specifically pertinent to the topic of disparate treatment between male and female athletes, states “. . . Just because they are much better than everyone else doesn’t mean they should just ban the sport. Should Wayne Gretzky have been banned from the NHL for scoring so much? Should Tom Brady have been banned from the NFL for winning so much?”[13] In the last four Olympic games there has not been much variation on men’s ice hockey podium either, Canada has won gold three times, competing against the United States twice and Sweden once.[14] Does this mean we should also consider removing men’s ice hockey as well? These female athletes have worked their entire lives to play at the Olympic level, now they risk having their sport removed because they are either too talented or not talented enough?  

As we celebrate 50 years of Title IX, we must continue to recognize certain inequalities still exist between male and female sports. Speaking out about these inequalities is an important way to enact change. Social media also allows individuals to bring greater attention to these issues when they come about. It will be interesting to see how the NCAA responds to last year’s debacle in the upcoming 2022 March Madness tournament.

[1] Isabelle Lopez, ESPN Leading “Fifty/50” Initiative Exploring Fifty Years of Title IX Across the Walt Disney Company, ESPN Press Room (May 18, 2021) https://espnpressroom.com/us/press-releases/2021/05/espn-leading-fifty-50-initiative-exploring-fifty-years-of-title-ix-across-the-walt-disney-company/.

[2] “Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972” HHS.gov, https://www.hhs.gov/civil-rights/for-individuals/sex-discrimination/title-ix-education-amendments/index.html#:~:text=Title%20IX%20of%20the%20Education%20Amendments%20of%201972%20(Title%20IX,activity%20receiving%20federal%20financial%20assistance.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Sarah Pruitt, How Title IX Transformed Women’s Sports, History, https://www.history.com/news/title-nine-womens-sports

[6] Id.

[7] Title IX and the Rise of Female Athletes in America, Women’s Sports Foundation, https://www.womenssportsfoundation.org/education/title-ix-and-the-rise-of-female-athletes-in-america/

[8] Sarah Pruitt, How Title IX Transformed Women’s Sports, History, https://www.history.com/news/title-nine-womens-sports

[9] Id.

[10] CNN Business, https://www.cnn.com/videos/business/2021/03/24/megan-rapinoe-equal-pay-congress-orig-jm.cnn

[11] Doug Feinberg, NCAA Apologizes to Women’s Teams for Weight Room Inequities, AP News (Mar. 19, 2021), https://apnews.com/article/womens-basketball-womens-college-basketball-basketball-media-social-media-01bcb8bbe4a9ec1073d26b998f9be586

[12] Rosie DiManno, Why Women’s Hockey Doesn’t Belong in the Olympics, Toronto Star (Feb. 6, 2022), https://www.thestar.com/sports/olympics/opinion/2022/02/06/why-womens-hockey-doesnt-belong-at-the-olympics.html

[13] Brendan Lavoy, Twitter (Feb. 6, 2022, 1:37 PM) https://twitter.com/laavoy/status/1490394346176266247?cxt=HHwWjoCysd3w-K4pAAAA

[14] History of Men’s Ice Hockey at Winter Olympics, NHL.com, https://www.nhl.com/news/history-of-mens-ice-hockey-at-winter-olympics/c-704711

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