Fifty years ago, on June 23rd, 1972, Richard Nixon signed into law Title IX. This educational civil rights law requires that all American schools provide equal opportunity in all educational programs and activities on the basis of sex (1970s)/gender (today). The law would apply to school sports, too, which sparked a sports revolution for American girls and women. Before Title IX, 1-in-27 girls played high school sports; by the end of the 1970s, 1-in-3 girls were participating, and that rate has remained to this day. Today, 3.5 million girls play high school sports, and 224,000 women compete in college sports.
How do we evaluate the historical importance of Title IX? While most historians cringe at the term “American exceptionalism,” sports are one institution for which this term actually works and becomes necessary to inform our analysis. This helps us make sense of why American women have dominated international sports, Olympic Games, and World Cups since the 1990s, and why today the world’s athletes come through American universities, taking advantage of both our world-class athletics infrastructure (thanks to college football money) and world-class academic institutions.
Meanwhile, Title IX has transcended U.S. borders to enjoy a global reach, inspiring sports organizations around the world to work to create the qualitative experience of equal opportunity—the feeling of being treated equitably when it comes to facilities, coaching and support staff, medical care, equipment, uniforms, travel, and promotions and publicity.
Professor Jackson’s Recommended Reading:
Invisible Seasons: Title IX and the Fight for Equity in College Sports, by Kelly Belanger
Getting in the Game: Title IX and the Women’s Sports Revolution, by Deborah Brake
Two pieces I wrote for Global Sport Matters on gender inequity issues in college sports:
“NCAA Gender Inequity is Feature, Not a Bug” https://globalsportmatters.com/opinion/2021/11/09/ncaa-gender-inequity-feature-not-bug-title-ix/
“Hey Disruptors! Women’s College Basketball Needs You” https://globalsportmatters.com/business/2021/03/26/hey-disruptors-womens-basketball-needs-you/
***I also recommend Season One of Chris Ballard’s Audible podcast “Out of Bounds” – especially episodes 5 and 6, which cover Title IX and women’s sports through the stories of Kristine Lilly and Olivia Multrie.
- Has the NCAA been a help or a hinderance to health and growth of women’s sports in the United States?
- Are women’s sports organizations better off going it on their own or joining forces with men’s franchises to tap into those fan bases and traditional/generational legacies?
- Would “nonrevenue”/Olympic sports—men’s and women’s—benefit from a new college sports model that separates out football to treat it separately?
- How are today’s athletes in women’s sports leading the way in creating a better sporting future?