Nearly 50 years ago, the passage of Title IX changed the landscape of women’s sports forever.
The clause, tucked into the much larger Education Amendments of 1972, stated simply that no person should be discriminated against, based on their sex, in institutions that receive federal funding — schools, of course, included.The whole thing was wrapped up in a matter of months. The bill was introduced in the Senate on Feb. 28, 1972, and signed into law by President Richard Nixon on June 23, 1972.
Though its scope covers much more, Title IX’s biggest impact was to athletics. Since schools, by nature, often present the first opportunities for children to begin playing sports, Title IX opened doors that many people, at the time, didn’t even realize were closed.
In 1972, fewer than 300,000 girls played high school sports, according to data from the National Federation of State High School Associations — essentially, only 8% of the number of boys that were playing at that same time.
Within the first year of its passage, girls’ involvement in sports climbed to more than 800,000 athletes and continued growing each year. By the early 1980s, total girls’ involvement rose to more than 50% relative to boys.
Girls’ sports participation hit its all-time peak in 2018-19, with 75% involvement compared to boys.
The college ranks have experienced a similar boost, as well.
Fifty years ago, 32,000 women were involved in college athletics. Now, those numbers are up to more than 220,000.
Based on recent polling data, however, Title IX’s impact isnt even fully understood by most people.
Ipsos, a market research and public opinion firm, conducted a poll in April that showed nearly 75% of students and 60% of parents say they know “nothing at all” about Title IX. Yet, they all feel its influence in one way or another.
The law doesn’t state that schools are required to offer particular sports or the same sports for each sex. They’re also not required to offer an equal number of sports for each sex or spend an equal amount of money. Some high schools or colleges may have those options, of course, but the law assures that institutions are at least required to accommodate the athletic interests and abilities of each sex to the same degree.
Basically, running a football program will likely take up more resources, but the football team shouldn’t receive higher-quality equipment than the women’s programs.
And, the results speak for themselves.
According to a poll surveyed by Pew Research Center, 82% of Americans who played high school or college sports said the experience had a positive influence on their current physical health, 79% said it was a self-esteem boost, and 44% said it helped with future job prospects. According to the same poll, only 33% of women 50 and older played sports at those levels compared to 48% for those born after Title IX’s passage.
Still, that doesn’t mean things today are perfect.
The United States women’s national soccer team recently won a $24 million lawsuit against the US Soccer Federation on the basis of equal pay compared to the men’s squad.
In March 2021, photos went viral showing the disproportionate weight room set-ups between the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments. This year, opportunities for both were much more even. In fact, for the first time ever, “March Madness” was used for the women’s tournament as well.
It’s not only the grand, sweeping issues that Title IX covers. It’s also meant to eliminate even the slightest of discrimination — from top to bottom.
After all, what’s the point of sports if there isn’t equality? That’s why nobody gets a head start in a race or begins a game with more points than their opponent.
Title IX obviously played a major role in the growth of athletics, and its impact is still vital 50 years later.