The United States has enjoyed 50 years of rights afforded by Title IX. It’s a simple amendment: “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.” Despite the text’s short length (37 words), Title IX’s impacts have been notable in school programs, and, even though the word isn’t explicitly mentioned, in sports.
“What is so crystal clear about athletics is, you look at these budgets, and if women get 1 percent of what the men get, it’s such a clear case of discrimination,” Susan Ware, author of Title IX: A Brief History with Documents told Sports Illustrated, explaining why sports have been so clearly transformed by the law.
Here are the numbers. Before Title IX was passed in 1972, college athletic departments allocated 2 percent of their budgets to their female students, and one in 27 girls played sports. By 2016, two in five girls were participating in sports. Speaking as a Title IX beneficiary, I had an unlimited view of my sports opportunities growing up swimming, running and playing tennis.
While the opportunities for girls’ and women’s sports seem limitless in 2022, the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF), founded in 1974 by tennis legend Billie Jean King, has made it clear in its Title IX 50th Anniversary research findings that the U.S. has a long way to go to achieve the ambitions of the amendment. According to the findings, sports opportunities for high school boys have grown approximately 25 percent in the past 50 years, while high school girls today still have fewer opportunities than boys had back in the 1970s.
And it helps to look at subsections of girls and women to find which groups may need better advocacy. The report found that girls and women of color, those with disabilities and those identifying as LGBTQ+ are particularly in need of appropriate options. Schools offer these individuals less access consistently, WSF found. Among others, the report highlights the staggering fact that 78 percent of LGBTQ+ students avoid school functions because they feel unsafe or uncomfortable.
Those participating in sports at a high level are not blind to the lack of equality female athletes have been experiencing. WSF reports that in 2019, only 27 percent of U.S. women high school sport leaders, and 44 percent of college sport leaders, indicated that they believed institutions were complying with Title IX.
“We should absolutely celebrate the fact that girls’ participation in high school sports is nearly 12x higher than it was when Title IX was passed, but we cannot rest on it,” said King in a press statement from the WSF. Following King’s statement, WSF President and three-time Olympic medalist with the U.S. Women’s Hockey Team Meghan Duggan said, “When girls don’t get access to sport, it means they don’t get access to the countless benefits sports provide, from higher levels of self-esteem and lower levels of depression to critical workplace skills such as teamwork, goal-setting and the pursuit of excellence.”
Well, as Duggan noted, there are clear benefits to sports participation, including economic impacts. The World Economic Forum points to a correlation between sports and landing better jobs, as well as being more likely to lead a team. A 2014 survey from EY found that almost 95 percent of women executives have played a sport, and about three quarters say experience with a sport can help accelerate a woman’s career.
There are many reasons to put effort into fulfilling the promise of Title IX. Among the many suggestions the WSF gives that can help expand girls’ and women’s sports, it recommends simply not taking the right for granted. That may be particularly sage advice as protests spread across the U.S. following the Supreme Court’s rollback of Roe v. Wade. Women (and men) are calling for a renewal of this protection.
The decision that shocked the nation on June 24 should act as a wakeup call in many ways, one of which must be to defend the rights we currently have and ensure they are executed.
Image credit: Jeffrey F Lin via Unsplash
Roya Sabri is a writer and graphic designer based in Illinois. She writes about the circular economy, advancements in CSR, the environment and equity. As a freelancer, she has worked on communications for nonprofits and multinational organizations. Find her on LinkedIn.