I had another post ready. It has to wait. Yesterday I read an Associated Press article about the fortieth anniversary of Title IX. I wasn’t prepared for the emotions that overwhelmed me. Amazement–has it been that long? Regret because the legislation didn’t come sooner. Jubilation for the women who followed.
Title IX is the law that specifies, “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.” Sponsors intended to increase educational and job opportunities for women, but athletics benefited, too. Before Title IX, fewer than 300,000 high school girls and 32,000 college women played sports. Today more than three million high school girls compete, while 191,000 female athletes played NCAA sports in 2010-11.
If you’ve read Incomplete Passes, you know it’s infused with the love of sports and competition. And you know how different things were for my generation.
“My high school offered GAA, Girls’ Athletic Association, which was a hyped-up name for after-school intramurals. Basically, we played the same games we did in gym class, wearing the same hideous, flamingo-red gym suits with bloomer legs. And we played by girls’ rules. In basketball, for instance, we had six players on a side, not five, and we played half-court. Only two designated ‘rovers’ on each team were allowed to cross the center line.”
Sports –as the AP article pointed out—help young women define themselves. Reporter Nancy Armour quoted a 16-year-old girl who credits soccer for her independence and self-confidence. When I catch a broadcast of the WNBA or the Women’s Final Four, I am awed by the players’ strength and camaraderie.
“Debating not only provided a substitute for organized sports … it also allowed me to ride a bus to weekend meets and earn a varsity letter, just as the male athletes did.”
Title IX, in every sense of the words, leveled the playing field. By 2002, a study found 82 percent of female business executives had played sports after elementary school. Athletics showed them that they could be leaders. Onetime basketball star Sarah Palin is a prime example of the new breed. I’m not a fan of Palin’s politics or her public persona, but I love what she was able to accomplish.
“My senior year, East High and West High decided to form girls’ track teams. We were the only schools that had teams, so we had one meet …”
I think about my classmates. Dianne’s tawny coloring and lean, hard muscles reminded me of a lioness. Sharon was a poor student, almost inarticulate—but she could hit a softball a mile. What opportunities might they have had if Title IX had been in place?
In the glorious spring of 1961, I made three new friends, and our relationship centered on sports. We created our own touch football league and played every day. I could feel myself changing from the despised class nerd into a fitter, more confident person who could control triumph and adversity.
“I pounded myself into shape on that Allouez School playground. I ached constantly, but it was a satisfying ache, a mark of accomplishment.”
Sports helped me find myself, and today they help millions of young women who are playing and learning because a federal law says they can. Happy Anniversary, Title IX!