It’s odd to think that our parents and grandparents lived in a time where lynchings occurred, separate bathrooms for blacks and whites existed and generally speaking racism was overt. While racism of course still exists and was certainly present when I was born in 1972, laws had been passed (mainly the Civil Rights Act of 1964) to address those problems and move toward equality.
What we don’t think about as much (or at least I don’t) is how much gender inequality existed back in the early 70’s. Every time I hear about colleges that used to only admit men, it is hard to even fathom yet prestigious schools like Harvard and Dartmouth didn’t become co-ed until 1972. At that time women made up less than 10% of enrollees in law school and medical school. And did you know that in 1972 not one woman had ever received a college scholarship for being good at sports? Essentially discrimination against women was open and obvious. It may not have been as mean spirited and destructive as racism, but it was destructive none the less. Then came a law that has helped change it all, Title IX.
Title IX says that “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.” The law was originally intended to improve opportunities in education, but it quickly became the law that is known for increasing the opportunity for women in sports. It was signed in to law on June 23, 1972 by the noted feminist President Richard Nixon.
Back in 1972, approximately 30,000 women played college sports of some sort and there were no NCAA sponsored championship tournaments for women in sports like basketball. Today there almost 200,000 women that play intercollegiate sports. Even more importantly, while almost 300,000 girls played high school sports in 1972, today that number is over 3,000,000 and growing. Aside from the equality factor, this is important because study after study shows that playing sports increases your academic performance, confidence, leadership skills, health and makes it less likely that you will get in trouble with the law.
Title IX wasn’t only meant to impact sports and it did not. Approximately 57% of college students today are women. Women now make up more than half of the graduates at law and medical school. Sexual harassment was found by a US appellate court to be illegal because it violated Title IX.
Detractors of Title IX argue against the law because it has cost men opportunities and it’s true. Men’s wrestling and gymnastics programs especially have suffered as women have achieved equality. But they are not suffering because women are no longer being discriminated against to the extent they used to, they are suffering because universities tend to throw their support to the revenue sport of football. And while college football teams are allowed 85 scholarship players, they add on to those numbers by taking many walk on players as well. The opportunities given to those players are really what end up costing non-revenue programs like wrestling. There have been legal challenges over this perceived reverse discrimination, but courts have time and time again stated that the law is constitutional and that you can’t cut equal opportunity for women so men can keep the privilege that they enjoyed for so long.
While I wish that everyone who wants to play a sport would have the opportunity to do so, the purpose of this post is to really highlight how successful the law has been in both the intended and not so intended manner it was written. Total equality has not yet been achieved (mainly in the facilities that women use as compared to their male counterparts as well as with coaching salaries), but it is impossible almost to imagine a world in which a little girl would be told that she can’t play and shouldn’t play.
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