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Title Ix and Women’s Role in Sports


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For centuries, women have been fighting for equal rights in numerous social arenas for as long as they have existed. From the right to vote, to Roe vs. Wade, women have been fighting for centuries for equal rights. While there is still a long way to go, many significant strides have been made in this ongoing battle. One of the great achievements of the women’s movement was the enactment of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 is the landmark legislation that bans sex discrimination in schools, whether it is in academics or athletics. It states: "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 educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance" (Storm 320).

Before Title IX, few opportunities existed for female athletes. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which was created in 1906 to format and enforce rules in men’s football but had become the ruling body of college athletics, offered no athletic scholarships for women and held no championships for women’s teams. Furthermore, facilities, supplies and funding were lacking. As a result, in 1972 there were just 30,000 women participating in NCAA sports, as opposed to 170,000 men (Simon 92).
Title IX applies to educational institutions that receive any federal funds and prohibits discrimination in all educational programs and activities. Athletic programs are considered educational programs and activities. Title IX gives women athletes the right to equal opportunity in sports in educational institutions that receive federal funds, from elementary schools to colleges and universities (Poertner 92). There are three parts to Title IX as it applies to athletics programs: (1) effective accommodation of student interests and abilities (participation), (2) athletic financial assistance (scholarships), and (3) other program components which includes equipment and supplies, scheduling of games and practice times, travel and daily per diem allowances, access to tutoring, coaching, locker rooms, practice and competitive facilities, medical and training facilities and services, publicity, recruitment of student athletes and support services (Simon 83).

With regard to Title IX's participation requirements, a school can meet the standard via three independent tests. The first test is a mathematical safe harbor. If the school offers athletic participation opportunities proportional to the numbers of males and females in the general student body, the school meets the participation standard. If the school does not meet this mathematical test, it may be deemed in compliance if it can (1) demonstrate consistent expansion of opportunities for the underrepresented gender over time or (2) show that the athletic program fully met the interests and abilities of the underrepresented gender. The courts have ruled that "boys are more interested in sports than girls" is not an acceptable defense to lack of equitable participation opportunities (Poertner 91).
Under Title IX there are no sport exclusions or exceptions, so football is included under the law. Individual participation opportunities in all men's sports and all women's sports are counted in determining whether a school meets the Title IX participation standard. The basic philosophical underpinning of Title IX is that there cannot be an economic justification for discrimination. The school cannot maintain that there are revenue productions or other considerations that mandate that male athletes receive better treatment or participation opportunities than female athletes. A good analogy would be that a school cannot say that it cannot afford to provide wheelchair access for students with physical disabilities as required under the Americans with Disabilities Act because the football team needs the money in order to maintain its current level of revenue production. Similarly, a school cannot say that it cannot afford to provide participation opportunities for an underrepresented gender (“Women’s Sports Foundation”).

Title IX has given many females opportunities that they never had before. In 1971, a year before title IX went into effect, out of approximately 4,000,000 high school athletes, females made up for 300,000 of them. In 1995, the number of high school female athletes has risen to 2.2 million; while the number of male athletes has actually dropped to 3.5 million. It still is not perfect gender equality, but it is getting closer and closer each year. A reason many lawmakers urge for title IX compliance in high school, because studies show that female athletes are: 80% less likely to become pregnant, 92% less likely to use drugs and three times more likely to graduate. Many more high school title IX lawsuits have been filed than from colleges. Even though only ten percent of Division I colleges are perfectly compliant with title IX, colleges are much more compliant than they were when title IX started. In 1971, college female athletes made for 30,000 of the 200,000 NCAA Division I athletes. In 1994, the male and female numbers have risen, females are up to 105,000 and the number of male athletes is up to 190,000. Although the numbers still are not perfect, the female participation rate has more than tripled and the male participation rate has gone up a mere 5%. Before title IX had become a law, 36% of all females had participated in a sport. Now, 55% of all females have participated in a sport. The war is not over either. Everyday all schools across the country are making more and more changes to be title IX compliant (Gavora 140).

The penalty for non-compliance with Title IX is withdrawal of federal funds. Despite the fact that most estimates are that 80 to 90 percent of all educational institutions are not in compliance with Title IX as it applies to athletics, such withdrawal of federal moneys has never been initiated. When institutions are determined to be out of compliance with the law, the United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) finds them "in compliance conditioned on remedying identified problems"(“Women’s Sports Foundation”).
Title IX requires that every educational institution have a Title IX Compliance Coordinator. The OCR is the primary agency charged with its enforcement. However, to date, this agency's enforcement efforts have been inadequate. Any person, regardless of whether they have been harmed by failure of the educational institution to comply with the law, may file a Title IX complaint with the OCR which is obligated to investigate such a complaint within a specified time period. The person filing the complaint may request that his or her identity be kept confidential. Individuals who have been harmed by failure of the institution to comply have an individual right to sue under the law and almost 95% of such lawsuits having to do with athletic program violations have been successful (Kane 88).
Despite these flexible standards, amendments to Title IX have frequently been proposed to limit its scope, usually justifying those restrictions on similar grounds to Brown University's reasoning in the 1996 case Cohen v. Brown University, when the university, in an effort to avoid its Title IX obligations, argued that women simply weren't as interested in sports as men,' The court in that case thoroughly rejected that logic. For a brief period during the second Bush administration, Title IX was extremely restricted. In 2005, the Department of Education issued guidance that allowed schools to simply send out an email survey to their female students, asking what additional sports they may have the interest and ability to play. If the responses to the survey were not significant, the school did not have to alter any programs and the school was presumed to be in compliance with Title IX." That guidance was rescinded during President Obama's first term (Poertner 93).

While there are considerable misconceptions and inaccuracies surrounding the discussion of Title IX as it applies to athletic programs, it is important to understand the basic premise of the law: Title IX is an important federal civil rights act that guarantees that our daughters and sons are treated in a like manner with regard to all educational programs and activities, including sports (Gavora 135).
The law still has work to do on behalf of athletes to move toward greater equality. Opportunities to participate in athletics are still not equal to total female enrollment and interest. Minorities and immigrant girls have much lower rates of participation than their white counterparts," While participation in female sports has expanded, the role of female coaches has decreased: "In 1972, 90% of women's teams were coached by females while today 43% are. Only 2-3% of men's teams are coached by women," Perhaps most significantly, however, the policies improving equality for female athletes must be expanded to also take into account the special needs of transgendered athletes, so sex equality does not become pigeonholed into addressing only the needs of men and women(“Women’s Sports Foundation”).

Despite room to move forward. Title IX has had clear success. Personally, running track brought me a variety of benefits. Besides the obvious benefits of supportive friendships with my teammates and the experiences gained while traveling to and from meets, track also gave me an enduring commitment to physical fitness and a healthy sense of competition. None of that would have been possible without Title IX (Farrell 198).

Work Cited

Farrell, Fink and Fields. “Women’s Sport Spectatorship: An Exploration of Men’s Influence” Journal of Sports Management 25 (2011): 190-201.

Gavora, Jessica. "Why Can't a Woman Be more like a Man?" Tilting the Playing Field: Schools, Sports, Sex, and Title IX. San Francisco: Encounter, 2002. 132-147.

Kane, Mary Jo. “Media Coverage of the Female Athlete Before, During, and After Title IX: Sports Illustrated Revisited.” Journal of Sports Management 2 (1988): 87-99.

Poertner Buchanan, Maggie Jo. "Title IX Turns 40: A Brief History and Look Forward." Texas Review of Entertainment & Sports Law 14.1 (2012): 91-93.
Simon, Rita J. "Title IX and the Problem of Gender Equality in Athletics." Sporting Equality: Title IX Thirty Years Later. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2005. 83-95.

Strom, Sharon Hartman. "Title IX and Women in Sports." Women's Rights. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2003. 317-324.

"Women's Sports Foundation." Women's Sports Foundation. The Women's Sports Foundation, n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2013.

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