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50 YEARS OF TITLE IX: WHERE ARE WE NOW?

50 YEARS OF TITLE IX: WHERE ARE WE NOW?

Rebecca Mehra / Jun 08, 2022

June 23, 2022 marks the 50th anniversary of landmark legislation designed to protect people from descrimination based on sex in schools, local and state educational agencies, and other institutions that receive federal financial assistance from the Department of Education.

Officially, this statute is known as the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act (named after co-author Patsy Mink after her passing in 2002). But most people know it now by its amendment designation: Title IX.

To mark this big anniversary that changed the lives of so many women, we asked our resident Title IX expert, Haute Volée Rebecca Mehra, to dig deeper into the history of the law, as well as its present and future.

While attending Stanford, Rebecca not only took a course called "Looking Back, Moving Forward: Raising Critical Awareness in Gender and Sports," she became a teaching assistant for it. She also worked in the athletic department for three years assisting in leadership and development. And today, of course, she sees the effects of the ruling around her as she competes in professional track and field.

Welcome to the three-part series, "50 Years of Title IX: Where Are We Now?"



Title IX: An Introduction

Last week a USA Today article came out detailing the “illusion of gender equity” in sports. The piece contends that although Title IX was intended to close the gender gap in sports, schools are skirting the rules in order to maintain compliance, such as padding rosters with students who don’t compete, over counting women, and in some cases, counting men as women. This is one of countless articles that has unearthed the lasting inequities of a system designed to support men’s sports. And that, for better or for worse, has highlighted a landmark law: Title IX.

Though Title IX itself has been fraught with controversy, and its newsworthiness never seems to run dry, it’s been the most transformative piece of legislation for women, and most recently trans and nonbinary individuals, in athletics and education.

On June 23, Title IX will celebrate its 50th anniversary. I first learned about Title IX when I was in college, through a small seminar class in 2012 called “The History of Women and Sports.” 18 year old Rebecca wrote a blog about the sport opportunities my mom had at a high school in Long Island in the 1970s, and compared them to what I had today.

The contrast was stark, but that’s the extent to which most of us understand Title IX: our mothers and grandmothers had less opportunity and encouragement to play sports than we do now.

I became a teaching assistant for this course, and spent the next couple of years diving deeper on this paramount law.

So what exactly is Title IX, and what was its intention?
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.

While Title IX itself is a very short statute, Supreme Court decisions and guidance from the U.S. Department of Education have given it a broad scope. The law was intended to close the gender gap in education, and inadvertently changed the landscape of sports.

Before Title IX, one in 27 girls played sports. Today that number is two in five. While we still have far to go before every girl has equal access to sports, especially girls of color, girls with disabilities, and LQBTQ identifying individuals, it is clear that this law has made significant headway. More women are attending college and earning degrees than ever before. When Title IX was signed in 1972, women earned just 7% of all law degrees and 9% of all medical degrees- now they earn nearly half of all law and medical degrees. The law also requires universities to respond promptly and effectively to address any report of sexual harassment or sexual misconduct and actively take steps to prevent it.

Over the next couple of blog posts, released weekly, I will detail the history of Title IX, and highlight its prolific legal challenges, massive successes, and gaps to be filled.


 

Title IX: The Challenges Start Coming and They Don't Stop Coming

Title IX has a prolific history of legal challenges. In its 50 years of existence, Title IX has seen over 200 major legal challenges against the Department of Education.

To highlight a few…

Shortly after the formalization of the law, in 1974 Senator John Tower proposed an amendment which would exempt revenue-producing sports from determinations of Title IX compliance. Prior to the law being passed, Congress had paid little attention as to how to statute would impact sports. The “Tower Amendment” was ultimately not passed, but it invited an onslaught of proposed amendments that looked to dismantle the power of Title IX.

The remainder of the 1970s and early 1980s saw a dozen more congressional challenges to the law. This included regulations that provided for “reasonable provisions considering the nature of particular sports.” This was vague language that allowed sports with “larger crowds” and “more expensive equipment” not need be matched by other sports teams with smaller crowds and cheaper equipment. This was relatively tame amongst the challenges: many others looked to dissolve Title IX’s application to sports, and in some cases its contents in entirety.

In its 50 years of existence, Title IX has seen over 200 major legal challenges.

 

The 1984 cases Grove City v. Bell removed coverage of athletics entirely, exempting athletic scholarships, because the Supreme Court ruled that Title IX only applies to programs within universities that receive federal funding. This ruling actually lasted for three years, until a bill in Congress passed to overturn this ruling in 1987.

Starting in the 1990s, lawsuits started to roll in from across the country. Individuals, teams, and groups were suing universities for noncompliance with Title IX regulations.

In 1996, led by student-athlete Amy Cohen, members of the women’s gymnastics and volleyball teams sued Brown University, and its president and athletic director, after the teams were demoted from varsity status and school funding was pulled. Brown University’s chief argument was that it did not violate Title IX because “women are less interested in sports than men.” Though the argument sounds highly archaic, other schools across the country were employing similar arguments to defund women’s sports teams. A federal appeals court upheld that Brown University illegally discriminated against female-student athletes, and a precedent was set.

Amy Cohen and the Brown University gymnastics team in 1991, National Museum of American History.

In 2002, the College Sports Council, which represents national collegiate coaches associations for men’s and women’s swimming, men’s and women’s track and field, men’s wrestling and men’s gymnastics, among other wrestling associations, claimed that Title IX is unconstitutional, and discriminates against men’s sports teams. Though this suit was dismissed, this defense has continued to be levied in the fight against Title IX in the last 20 years.

The issue of transgender athletes and sport has recently come to the forefront, with the likes of Lia Thomas making national news for winning an NCAA swimming title this year. In January and March of 2021, President Biden released executive orders, aimed at “Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation,” which effectively affirmed the right for trans and nonbinary athletes to compete in sports that match that of their gender identity.

 

It is the policy of my Administration to prevent and combat discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation, and to fully enforce Title VII and other laws [like Title IX] that prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.

-President Joe Biden

Legal challenges related to Title IX are popping up daily. Universities have used the guise of Title IX law to cut non-revenue generating men’s sports teams, including teams that provide scholarship opportunities to primarily athletes of color. In the last few years, Clemson, Brown, and the University of Minnesota are among several others that have attempted to cut track and field teams under the radar. As aforementioned in the previous Title IX article, it was recently discovered that some university women’s teams are padding rosters with students who don’t compete, over counting women, and in some cases, counting men as women to remain in Title IX compliance. I’m sure that legal action at these universities is imminent. We are likely to see stories like this regularly in the news, as the fight for equal protection under the law continues.

...

In the next and final installment of this Title IX blog, I will cover the gap that Title IX has left for athletes and coaches of color, as well as athletes with disabilities. Though Title IX has come such a long way, and has changed the lives of millions, millions more have been also left behind.


 

Title IX: Who It Still Leaves Behind

The first women’s NCAA sporting event on record was a women’s basketball game in 1896 between Stanford and UC Berkeley. Only women were allowed to spectate in the name of “modesty,” but nearly 700 women attended the game.

 

The hankering for women’s sport has clearly long existed, but it was Title IX that revolutionized both educational and athletic opportunities for women. Though not all women have benefited equally from this landmark statute.

It is probably unsurprising to note that it is white women who have benefited most from Title IX provisions. In a 2007 study of high school sophomores, white girls had a 51% participation rate in sports, compared with 40% for black girls. The percentages were even lower for Asian/Pacific Islanders (34%) and Latinos (32%). Unfortunately 15 years later these numbers have improved very marginally.

The lack of access in sports on both the youth and high school levels follows suit on the collegiate level. A 2010 study showed that Black women are severely underrepresented in all but two sports: basketball, where black women represent over 50% of athletes, and track and field, where they represent around 28%. Although the presence of Black women in certain sports like volleyball is rising, they are all but absent in many other NCAA sports, including lacrosse, swimming, and soccer. The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) releases a yearly Sport Racial and Gender Report Card to track incremental progress. The 2020 report showed that student-athletes of color across DI, DII and DIII decreased from 34.4% to 31.7%.

The lack of diversity in coaching and other athletic department jobs is also indicative of a system that needs improvement. Girls need to see women that look like them in positions of power in order to imagine themselves there. In fact Title IX created such an influx of funds to women’s sports, that the percentage of women coaching women’s teams at the intercollegiate level fell to 44% in 2010 from 90% pre-Title IX in 1972.

It is white women who have benefited the most from Title IX provisions.

And then of course- women’s sports are still grappling with the lack of access to both facilities and media coverage. During the 2021 NCAA basketball tournament, an athlete shared a video on social media contrasting the spacious and well-equipped NCAA men’s basketball gym to that of the smaller and inadequate women’s weight room. When this video went viral, news media picked up the story, and it didn’t take long for the NCAA to course correct. It also wasn’t until this year that the women’s tournament could officially be denoted as “March Madness,” as the men’s tournament has been known for decades.

Weight rooms during the 2021 NCAA basketball tournament. Men's facilities are shown on the left, women's on the right.

Media coverage of women’s sports is abysmal at best. Women’s sports only get 4% of total news coverage, including television and print. 4%. When you hear that statistic, it maybe isn’t surprising that the NCAA women’s basketball tournament was covered the way it was until this past March.

Title IX has improved athletic opportunities for women leaps and bounds. In 1972 only one in 27 girls played sports. Today that number is two in five. Women make up 44% of NCAA athletes. Women are no longer pulled from starting lines of marathons, or forced out of school for becoming pregnant. More LGBTQ athletes are proudly out and supported than ever before, thanks to extended Title IX protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

And yet, clearly, there is so much more work to be done.



Here are a few organizations doing the work to further progress women’s sports (on various scales) that are worth looking into and learning more about:

Just Women’s Sports: A media company dedicated to sharing news and stories of women in sport. In fact, the founder, Haley Rosen, is a friend and classmate of mine from Stanford.

Fast Women: A weekly newsletter + fabulous social media sharing on elite women in running.

Women’s Sports Foundation Equity Project: The Equity Project, powered by WSF, is a movement of individuals and organizations that aims to impact participation, policy, representation and leadership in sports in sustainable and measurable ways.

Black Women’s Sports Foundation: The BWSF mission is to increase the involvement of black women and girls in all aspects of sport, including athletics, coaching and administration.

Trackgirlz: Founded by Olympian and USA Team coach Mechelle Freeman, Trackgirlz is a nonprofit organization helping girls reach their full potential through track and field, via mentorship and education. girls access to mentorship, education

Rise: Rise is a national nonprofit that educates and empowers the sports community to eliminate racial discrimination, champion social justice and improve race relations.

“Progress is not in enhancing what is, but in advancing toward what will be.”
-Khalil Gibran

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