This year is the 40th anniversary of Title IX, a 37-word sentence that was inserted into a large Educational Amendments bill and signed into law by President Richard M. Nixon in June of 1972. Title IX 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 educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.
While Title IX never mentions sports, those 37 words have come to stand for female opportunity in athletics. In the past 40 years, the number of girls playing high school sports has increased 1079 percent, compared to a 22 percent increase in male participation over the same time period. College athletics programs have witnessed a similar explosion. Forty years ago, who would have imagined prime-time television coverage of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, or that UConn and Tennessee’s women’s basketball programs would bring more than 12,000 fans per game?
I was born two years before the establishment of Title IX. By the time I entered middle school, the schools in my town had an equal complement of girls’ and boys’ athletic teams, and I didn’t know it had ever been otherwise. In high school, I remember reading an article in the library that listed colleges offering basketball scholarships; again, I had no idea that this was a revolutionary concept, or that there had been no NCAA women’s tournament until just a few years earlier.
Now, though, I understand, and I am deeply grateful. I owe my own athletic and educational opportunities to the men and women who advocated for both the words and spirit of Title IX over the last 40 years. I appreciate my own coaches, who never treated my teammates or me as second-class athletes or citizens. I delight at young boys wearing Mia Hamm jerseys or imitating Hope Solo. I thrill at the national exposure provided women’s college basketball, and at the existence of the WNBA. And I know that these opportunities on the field have led to greater opportunities off it as well.
Yes, some people have taken Title IX to questionable extremes, but by and large I believe these 37 words of legislation have brought immensely positive cultural change to sports, to education, and to society as a whole.