Let’s unpack some of the intricacies of Title IX, as well as its impact on women’s sports.
Clearing Things Up
For proof of how fast time flies, look no further than this startling fact: last Thursday marked the 50th anniversary of Title IX’s passing. The impact of the landmark law can’t be overstated; not only did it provide women (and more recently, trans and non-binary people) with protection against discrimination in the educational world, but it also led to a participation and investment boom in women’s collegiate and secondary athletics.
The fact that the anniversary coincides with the disgusting reversal of Roe v. Wade is rather disheartening. But it may be therapeutic to handle this setback of women’s rights by remembering another time where progress was made despite terrible odds. In spirit of this memoriam, let’s unpack a few misconceptions about Title IX and its effect on collegiate sports.
Misconception 1: Title IX is the Act’s real (and only) name. While “Title IX” is understandably the most common moniker for the law (after all, it’s so darned catchy), its official designation is the “Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act.” It was renamed in honor of the late, great Representative Patsy T. Mink (D-HI), its major author and sponsor. Interestingly, she was inspired to write Title IX after facing sexist discrimination while hunting for a job. Talk about taking matters into your own hands.
Misconception 2: Title IX benefits women and hurts men. Those who consider anti-sexist laws like Title IX to be “misandrist” or “harmful against men” are tragically mistaken. Of course, the safety and well-being of all women in academia were the main priorities. But it’d be wrong to ignore that the amount of boys participating in high school sports has increased by almost 400,000 since the passing of the Act. Hmmm…it’s almost as if equality for the marginalized benefits everyone, including the already-privileged. And don’t think that non-binary people are left out from this discussion––in 2021, the US Department of Education confirmed that its enforcement of Title IX does in fact combat discrimination based on gender identity. Though trans rights in sports have a very long way to go, at least that’s a start.
Misconception 3: The Act was about sports in education. The original write-up of Title IX states that no one in the U.S. may 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” on the basis of their sex. It makes no blatant mention of sports. Rather, the impression that the Act is a “sports-based” law may come from the arguments of its original detractors. For instance, Republican Senator John Tower proposed the Tower Amendment in 1974, which aimed to exempt revenue-generating sports from the Act’s control. Though his attempt largely failed, multiple Congresspeople followed suit, bemoaning the Act’s impact on sports and attempting to weaken its reach in that area. As a result, the assumption that Title IX was largely aimed at high school and collegiate athletic departments continues to spread today. But regardless of the misunderstood intent behind passing it, the Act had a profound effect on women’s sports that should still be acknowledged.
Understanding the falsehood of these misconceptions is crucial to understanding Title IX’s impact as a whole––as well as the legacy it leaves behind.
Despite the Act’s legendary impact, we still have a long way to go in terms of equality in sports. Per Just Women’s Sports, the Women’s Sports Federation estimated that “the majority of [high] schools are likely out of compliance with the law” when it comes to providing non-discriminatory resources and opportunities to women’s athletic departments. Collegiate sports doesn’t look much better: multiple women’s athletic departments were cut in NCAA-affiliated colleges during the pandemic. Issues like these could affect the viability and reputation of women’s sports on a professional level.
Part of the reason behind such deficiencies isn’t rooted in the law itself; rather, it’s the application of the Act that is lacking. “The lesson of Title IX’s enforcement in 50 years, sadly, is if women want equality, they have to sue,” said attorney Arthur Bryant to ESPN. “No one else is going to do it.” A failure to hold organizations accountable for Title IX violations is a failure to everyone who fought tooth and nail to get it passed in the first place––especially Representative Mink. If educational organizations truly want to show their support for women and birth-givers during this dark time, they absolutely must commit to early, often, and thorough enforcement of the Act. We can’t go another fifty years without it.