I have always loved sports. When I was younger, my identity was a soccer player. Literally. When people asked me who I was my first thought was not a daughter, a sister, a girl, or even a student, a child, a Californian or an American. I played soccer. To this day, one of my most remarkable memories was sitting in the Rose Bowl with over 90,000 other people, watching the 1999 Women’s World Cup Final, and seeing Brandi Chastain slice the soccer ball into the goal, cementing a victory as she whirled her shirt over her head. It was only later that I fully began to realize how amazing it is for me to have these memories.
My mother never played sports in high school or college, despite her natural athletic ability and passion for competition. Neither did her friends or my grandmothers. According to a National federation of State High Schools Report, prior to 1971, there were only 294,015 girls playing high school sports compared to 3,666,917 boys. Fast forward to 2005, and there were 2,953,355 girls playing high school sports. That is a 904% increase!In the same time period there was an almost 456% increase in women’s participation in collegiate sports.
This is an incredible, almost unbelievable shift in our culture, social norms, and school/public policy. This change can largely be attributed to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. In the last forty years, this law enabled and encouraged women to participate in athletics. Yet to be honest, most people are either unaware of or condemn Title IX. I remember the first time I had a major disagreement with my high school economics teacher it was over the benefits of Title IX. He argued that it had served its purpose and now was damaging boys’ opportunities.
We have all heard the arguments before. Title IX hurts men’s sports. It shuts down teams and unfairly benefits girls, who don’t even really want to play as much. It economically irrational and doesn’t follow the markets currents, implying that Title IX is anti-capitalistic and, in some way, almost a sin against mankind. A co-worker of mine had a debate with another man, who said, “it’s done some good, but for the most part, it’s had some of the worst ramifications ever, especially where college sports are concerned.” So why is Title IX relevant and, more importantly, why should it be preserved?
The important language in Title IX is actually this: 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.
- 20 U.S.C. §1681.
The law is aimed at eliminating sexual discrimination, which, I hope, we all can agree is a good goal. Contrary to popular thought, it does not require equal distribution of college or high school funds for men and women’s sports. In a 2003-2004 study, female collegiate athletes received only 37% or sports funds and only 32% of the recruitment funds—hardly a 50-50 split. Instead, the law focuses on having an institution demonstrate that they are making progress and that men and women participate in sports in proportional amount to their enrollment numbers. Men and women’s teams are not required to have the same services or the same equipment, or the same funds, but there also should not be strong disparities between the two. Before, there were cases of women’s basketball teams not having any uniforms, while the boys got new ones every year. A small case, but something that is so frustrating, because it is external validation by the school that boys have the right to play but girls do not. For boys, it’s admirable. For girls, it’s pointless and strange. Title IX is aimed at taking down these sexual stereotypes that create barriers for both genders in suggesting that all boys and only boys are interested in sports.
To be honest, it is more than a little sad that the perception is that by elevating women’s athletics and allowing women to compete and develop like men, we are harming men. There has been a steady increase in male sports participation in sports since Title IX. The NCAA memberships have had a net gain of 70 men’s sports since Title IX. And the claim that Title IX cuts men’s funding in favor for girls, despite all the stories your brother or neighbor or that boy in your class has told you, is also flawed. The real culprit? Typically men’s football and basketball teams. Schools are responsible under Title IX to have equitable distribution of funds. This doesn’t need to be a 50-50 split, but if 40% of the athletes are female, and the school athletic budget is only 25%, then someone could potentially sue and win them for discriminating against women under Title IX. So colleges plow money into these two sports at the expense of other men’s sports. By some estimates, Division I schools spend 40-50% of their sports budget on these two sports. Just these two sports! It’s incredible.
So it’s heartening when people realize that these consequences are due less to Title IX then a priority only a few sports. NCAA President Myles Brand states “Title IX mandates increased participation opportunities, not fewer. It is true that institutions [sic] must make decisions about what it can afford and what it cannot, about how many sports it can sponsor, and about the level at which those sports will be supported. Those are the results of institutional priorities and financial circumstances, not the unintended consequence of Title XI” (Title IX: 35 Years).
And the argument that these two sports are justified to have these expenditures because their revenues pay for women’s sports? Also not justified. According to a 2002-2003 NCAA Report on Division I and II Intercollegiate Sports, 52% of football and 52% of basketball programs “operate with budget deficits, spending more than they bring in and contributing nothing to other sports budgets”. So while it may be true that some football sports do pay for the women’s softball teams, it is also true that at least half the time, if not more, they are actually a financial drain on the largest colleges, siphoning off a large percentage of a large athletic budget, which could have gone to supporting more men and women’s sports.
But I do understand their pain. It hurts me when I think about how the BYU men’s soccer team is only a club on our campus. I hate hearing that the lacrosse team can’t play in an official capacity at colleges around campus, or that this or that sport doesn’t exist at this high school or that university. Because I love sports, and I understand the personal value of them: the thrill of jumping off the bench to represent your team for the first time, the delight of catching the ball, or of striking that perfect cross, of knowing you have given everything your body can, or of rejoicing in competition. It’s not a gender-restricted reaction—it’s a human reaction. Boys and girls can both want it. And I want everyone to have that opportunity. And Title IX has allowed literally millions of girls to have that opportunity, an opportunity that they never had before. The change to say, “I am an athlete, first and foremost” and not be ashamed because they are a girl and should not feel that way.
Not only that, the social benefits of encouraging women to play sports is almost incalculable. They have preformed several studies and all of them have a similar result: sports are good for women. Even if a person could prove that Title IX was a short run drain on men’s sports, and believed that women’s sports should not be supported because they are not typically as popular at the Olympics or at the professional level, look at the long run, individual and societal benefits:
“Research studies have found that girls who play sports are more confident, have higher self-esteem and better body images, are less likely to get pregnant or be involved with drugs, and are more likely to graduate from high school than girls who do not play sports. Furthermore, sports participation reduces the risk of developing heart disease and helps control weight, builds lean muscle, reduces fat and prevents osteoporosis. As little as two hours of exercise a week on the part of a teenage girl can reduce her lifelong risk of breast cancer” (Title IX: 35 Years, 7).
How can we deny women the right to play and compete? Title IX tore down gender barriers so that people like me could play soccer in high school and run track and cross-country. It has helped me fulfill my dreams, and it has literally made me a healthier, stronger, more fulfilled person. And can’t we all use women with higher self-esteem? These women give back to society in more than just ticket-sales at college games. Theirs is a long-term investment; paid back over decades of service, community building, career employment, and teaching.