When I was younger, like most boys, I played little league baseball. I was on a team with two of my best friends for about four years. Every year, the league had an all-star game, and every year the team sent three players. For the four years I played with my friends, the three of us went every time. At that age, you don’t have to be the best baseball player on your team, you just have to be more athletic than everyone else. I couldn’t hit my way out of a wet paper bag for years, but I was faster than everyone else. So, I was an all-star. My other friend was similar to me; just one of the more athletic players on the team. The final friend was actually the best player on the team. The best hitter, fielder, and pitcher. Her name was Kristin Radcliffe. Kristin is one of the best athletes I’ve ever met. She played little league baseball, travel basketball, and street hockey with the boys. Kristin went on to play soccer at Indiana University on a scholarship before retiring due to injury. Before 1972, the Kristin Radcliffes of the world would have been hard to find. However, in 1972 President Nixon signed Title IX into law.
“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.”
No where in the requirements of the law does Title IX reference athletics, but one could argue that Title IX has had more of an impact on athletics than any other instance where the law is applicable. Title IX has drastically improved the quantity and quality of women’s athletics.
Before Title IX was implemented, only 300,00o girls participated in high school athletics, while 3.6 million boys participated. Today, the number of male and females participating in high school sports is nearly identical. This is a direct result of Title IX and the opportunities it has created for women.
The exposure of women in sports has also drastically improved as well. For a long time, tennis was the one of the only sports where female athletes were able to gain notoriety. Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova were the most famous female athletes of the day. Today, with the addition of vastly greater sports coverage, female athletes are well known in many sports. Hope Solo and Alex Morgan in women’s soccer. Candice Parker and Brittney Griner in women’s basketball. Michelle Wie and Annika Sorenstam in golf. Danica Patrick in NASCAR. Jennie Finch in Softball. The list goes on and on.
While Title IX has played a large role in equaling the playing field for women, it has not been without conflict or limitations. While Title IX has created many opportunities for young women, it has lead to cuts in male sports. Collegiate sports such as wrestling have been hit hard with the lack of funding created by Title IX. The three-prong test used for compliance with Title IX is often cited as the reason for these cuts. According to a 2008 study done by Women in Sport, “Wrestling historically was the most frequently dropped sport, but other men’s sports later overtook the lead, such that according to the NCAA, the most-dropped men’s sports between 1987 and 2002 were as follows: Cross country (183), indoor track (180), golf (178), tennis (171), rowing (132), outdoor track (126), swimming (125) and wrestling (121).”
Title IX has also struggled to provide equal opportunity for women working in sports. Coaches are predominately still males in females sports. Women have also struggled to be seen anywhere other than sidelines when regarding media coverage of sports. For every Dorris Burke, there are dozens of Jen Browns and Erin Andrews.
“Women have never been expected to do play-by-play until this generation,” says Allison Moran. Moran has been covering sports for over 20 years. She is a dedicated sports reporter, but many times is the only women among the throng male reporters.
Women have also fought the stereotype of “just a pretty face” for the explanation of their credentials when covering sports. Do a Google search for “women sports reporters”. The search brings up multiple lists of “hottest sports reporters”. In a world dominated by men, women are still fighting for their place.
While Title IX has been a blessing for women in athletics, it has not solved every problem. The ground gained by women in the last 40 years is indisputable, but it seems as though there is still a long way to go.