Is This The Most Successful Law Of The Last 40 Years?

Is This The Most Successful Law Of The Last 40 Years?

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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  • Hi, Michael! Glad you wrote this column! I write the "Token Female" column for ChicagoNow, and this is my life's work....I was a pre-Title IX baby who has been lucky enough to live out a passion through writing about sports and covering sports of all kinds.

    I agree with your column in all aspects...but I do want you to know that there are always challenges to the law, and if you read some of my blogs, you will see that there are any number of ways to discriminate, still, and that we are still fighting to achieve recognition and equality.

  • Thanks. On the plus side, in 1995 I wrote a paper on Title IX for a class in law school and the improvements since then are astounding. Hopefully the next 17 years are as good as the last 17. Their really hasn't been a successful legal challenge to this law, just sneaky ways to try and ignore it. Keep up the good work with your blog and thanks again for the comment.

  • I think you can truly applaud Title IX for being an employment boon for attorneys.

    It matters not to people that some of the animals on the farm are now more equal than others.

    You can easily imagine a world where a little boy is told, "Tough luck". Male privilege? Perhaps only when it comes to law suits.

  • In reply to Richard Davis:

    Come on Richard, don't give a lazy argument. This is a niche area of law that has probably resulted in less than 100 cases in 40 years.

    And no, I can't imagine a world where a little boy is told tough luck. I have boys of my own and they have every athletic and academic opportunity in the world that they want. And so do their female counterparts.

  • In reply to Michael Helfand:

    Michael, forty cases for you and forty cases for other lawyers equals a lot of tax money that school districts and others have had to spend to defend a position. And some nice damage rewards as well. But you are right: the ADA probably represents bigger fish to fry and keep.

    You cannot imagine a world as such, where boys are told "tough luck", but it does exist. I see little effort to support what are now minorities (males) in universities or elsewhere that have been slighted by more than equal opportunity amongst the chosen classes. This is the problem when there are legally defined victim classes as opposed all beggaring the system, as opposed to equal opportunity under the law.

  • In reply to Richard Davis:

    My college lost a wrestling and male soccer team. We added a soccer team for women. Should the women not get a team because they never had one previously? My school was 60% female yet the women weren't half of the athletes.

    The male soccer players and wrestlers were mad at the women. You know who they should have been mad at? The football players that got housed in a hotel the night before every home football game. That cost alone could have paid for one team. The other team could have been paid for by not taking 25 walkons on a week long bowl game trip.

    Equal opportunity does exist and that is all Title IX gives. What it took away was the uneven playing ground. And if my kid ends up being a wrestler and can't go to the school he wants, so be it. I'm happy that my niece can pursue whatever sports she wants.

  • In reply to Michael Helfand:

    Did the "what sport" is under the cup now game in your college eventually produce an exact ration of 60 female athletes overall and 40 percent male? If not, why not? Do you see the fallacy of this type of jiggering, of taking decisions based on race and sex alone?

    The fact is, and I do not think it is a good one for universities, is that it is the football team that attracts the big bucks. Did your university cut out the football team? If not, why not?

    Another thing to factor in is that at some universities not an equal percentage of woman students want to become student athletes in the same proportion.

    You may be okay with your kid not being able to go to the school of his choice due to its not having this hypothetical wrestling team, but your son may not be so magnanimous when the time comes.

    I'm happy that your niece can pursue whatever sports she wants to -- or does not want to.

    Fairness legislated down to the locker choice is not going to be beneficial in the long run, as fairness of this type often depends on subject judgement and not on excellence of ability.

  • In reply to Richard Davis:

    Here is a great article on the topic, http://espn.go.com/espnw/title-ix/7959799/the-silent-enemy-men-sports.

    On another note, I just read that women/girls still have 1.3 million less opportunities than men so clearly we still have a long way to go.

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