School Sports: No Girls Allowed?! Making Changes with Title IX
Art by Amy Tran, 16
You’re finally entering high school—that fascinating place you’ve discovered in books and movies. All you can think about is joining the girls’ soccer team. You’ve played with your friends and neighbors in the backyard forever, and now it’s time for you to start playing competitively. When you arrive at school, you see sign-up sheets for all the sports offered—but when you look closely, you realize that they’re for boys only!
It’s hard to imagine that this was the reality girls and women faced in schools until 40 years ago. Many times, even when girls’ sports were offered, they did not have anywhere near the same funding or facilities that the boys’ sports teams had. The boys could have top-of-the-line locker rooms and workout areas, but girls had to share lockers and sometimes even change in the weight rooms because there was no other space available.
The reason that educational institutions today are required to make sure that there is no sex discrimination in sports and in other arenas is because of a federal law called Title IX, which passed in 1972 as part of the Education Amendments. Short, sweet, and to the point, it says: “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."
This law means that federally funded middle schools, high schools, and universities are required to give girls the same opportunities as boys, including equal equipment, facilities, coaching, and publicity. And while its effect on sports may be more well known, Title IX also means that girls have equal access to the curriculum. Girls who are pregnant or parenting are entitled to equal educational opportunities, and it’s the responsibility of schools to ensure that this happens. By law, every school must designate and train at least one employee as the Title IX coordinator.
The 40th anniversary of Title IX is June 23, and you can bet there will be celebrations! The Women’s Sports Foundation is holding a conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan, entitled Title IX at 40: Progress and Promise, Equity for All. Likewise, the Women in Cable Telecommunications, along with the Women’s Sports Foundation and espnW, will be holding a conference in Washington, D.C., titled 40 for 40, which honors 40 of the nation’s greatest beneficiaries of Title IX.
To get an understanding of how Title IX has impacted women’s equality in sports, Teen Voices spoke with Laura Pappano, a journalist and author of Playing with Boys, and Erin Buzuvis, an associate professor of law at Western New England College. Both have researched and written about how men and women are treated differently in sports, even today.
What were sports like before Title IX and how have things changed?
Before Title IX was passed, a very small percentage of women played sports. Pappano said, “It was very clear at the time that Title IX was passed that we needed to do something. Girls weren’t even getting the chance to participate.” In some school districts, girls had no opportunity to play organized sports at all. According to the National Women’s Law Center, since Title IX was passed in 1972, the number of girls who play organized sports has increased from 295,000 (1 in 27 girls) to 3.2 million. However, the same study notes that there are still far fewer girls than boys playing sports today—the number of boys is currently estimated to be 4.5 million—that’s 1.3 million more boys than girls. “
After Title IX passed in 1972, it took a long time to figure out regulations around the new law. It wasn’t until 1975 that those regulations were enforced. According to Buzuvis, due to misunderstandings about how to interpret the law, there were many lawsuits regarding Title IX. The courts had difficulty enforcing this law because judges didn’t know how to define equality to ensure that boys and girls had equal opportunities.
Even today, there are many examples of violations of Title IX. In North Carolina recently, a few high schools were charged with violating Title IX. “They gave boys first-class facilities, but the girls were in a locker room where they were doubled up or they didn’t even have a locker room and had to change in the weight room,” Buzuvis explained. Title IX requires that girls’ and boys’ facilities must be equal, even if that means adding space for girls’ teams. “Everyone should have the opportunity to feel like a first-class athlete,” Buzuvis said.
Title IX applies only to all federally funded institutions—that is, most colleges and universities, and all public elementary, middle and secondary schools. But it has no jurisdiction over equality between men and women in Olympic sports or professional sports. According to the Women Sports Foundation, “In NCAA Division I-A sports, head coaches for women’s teams receive an average salary of $850,400, while head coaches for men’s teams average $1,783,100. This is a difference of $932,700!” The same article indicates that things haven’t improved much since 2005, when the team salary cap for WNBA players was $673,000, while the team salary cap for NBA players in the 2004-2005 season was $46 million. In short, Title IX has begun to help equality in educational institutions, but there is still much to be done at the professional level.
Does Title IX do its job?
Laura Pappano believes that “Title IX isn’t doing everything it needs to do to create an equal playing field for male and female athletes.” Erin Buzuvis disagrees. “Yes, it’s working well to promote progress in providing motivation to schools to add and enhance athletic opportunities for women and girls.” However, Buzuvis also noted that although the law is promoting progress, there are still inequalities between men and women’s sports teams and more needs to be done to make sports equal.
But what about pregnant and parenting students? Many may not realize that Title IX also prohibits schools from discriminating against teen mothers. In a 2012 report, the National Women’s Law Center found that despite Title IX, schools are still discouraging teen mothers from fully participating in school activities and are encouraging them to go into alternative school programs or even drop out. The report claims that there have been nine complaints of pregnancy discrimination in the last five years. The complaints include a student not being allowed to run for homecoming court, a student being told she was giving the school band “a bad image,” and a student being pressured to quit high school to join an alternative program.
The unfortunate truth is it takes too much time for the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to investigate these complaints and the girls often end up giving birth, graduating, and moving on by the time it takes to resolve them.
How do sports help girls?
It is important for girls to play sports in order to stay healthy and fit. A study by the Women’s Sports Federation shows that sports promote healthy living, teach leadership skills that help in the work force, and foster better social skills for later in life. “Sports are good for everybody, because sports are about leadership and athletic experience on and off the court,” Pappano said. “Sports give the ability to fail and come back from failure. Being on a team gives the ability to work with someone, to scream at them because they are not sticking their person, and then two minutes later, to high-five them because they made a good play. These abilities make people more likely to be successful in work, college, and their whole careers.”
What can we do to improve equality?
Pappano and Buzuvis believe that to improve equality in sports, girls need more encouragement and opportunities. Pappano suggests encouraging girls to play sports early in life and getting them involved in “programs that will entice and involve them in athletics.” She says that families should get involved together and “give female sports the same support that male sports get!”
Buzuvis also emphasized the need for girls to “get involved in the games, to receive the same access of encouragement from parents and coaches, to receive good training, and to be able to cultivate the talent to the same degree boys do,” she said.
What can I do to help?
Title IX has helped women have more opportunities in sports, but there is still a lot that needs to be done before sports are truly equal. Go to women’s games, encourage women and girls to participate in sports and if you feel your school doesn’t have equal opportunities for girls, tell them! Start a petition or talk to your school principal or president about getting more opportunities for girls or starting a new girls’ sports team. Equality is possible but we need to work together and speak up to make it happen!
Film director Maria Finitzo is trying to shed light on whether or not Title IX is working. She’s working on a documentary with Kartemquin Films called In the Game. The goal is to document the lives of inner-city girls and whether or not they are given the opportunities for sports that the law calls for. The film trained several young women as high school journalists and then followed them as they investigated their own and neighboring schools. They revealed the struggles that world-class athletes in the WNBA’s Chicago Sky have to face in order to gain the respect that they and their sport deserve. The production crew was hopeful that the film would be released in time for the 40th anniversary of Title IX, but the sad truth is that In the Game is on hiatus due to lack of funding. “Why has it been so hard to make a film about girls and sports and equality?” Finitzo implores. It has been 40 years since Title IX passed; there are still inequalities in schools between male and female sports. A documentary on this issue would be a great way to educate others of these problems—too bad that there isn’t enough interest to make a documentary.
Please do your part: Spread the word about Title IX! Tweet #TitleIX40 your thoughts on how important it is! Many people don’t know about this law, and many institutions are not following it as best as they could, so it’s up to you to educate others! Write about it on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites. You can say things like: “Equal rights for girls and guys! #TitleIX40” or “#TitleIX40 has allowed me to play sports in schools!” Or “#TitleIX40 guarantees that my pregnant friends can stay in school.”
Now is a time to celebrate 40 years of efforts toward women’s equality. Celebrate by playing your favorite sport with your friends; educate others while having fun!
What if I see Title IX violations in my school?
Though the gap is closing for inequality in schools and colleges, it’s not quite perfect. Some educational institutions disregard Title IX and do not offer the same opportunities or facilities for girls that they do for boys. If you have been denied the right to play a sport, join a club, or have unfair sports facilities for girls at your school, or if you are being discriminated against because you are pregnant or parenting, you can make a difference! Start by assuming good intentions, but be persistent with your local officials. If that doesn’t work, you can file a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. If more students filed complaints, then schools would be forced to update and apply Title IX to its full extent. Further, since Title IX does not specify sports, it has the potential to be used to increase opportunities for girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), and to ensure that all schools have policies and curriculum to help prevent and support victims of sexual harassment and sexual violence.
The Women’s Sports Foundation has several articles and blogs with tips and suggestions on how to bridge the gap at your school. You have the right to explore educational opportunities, be safe, and play sports—and it’s time for you to exercise that right!
For more information, see:
Women’s Sports Foundation: www.womenssportsfoundation.org
National Women’s Law Center http://www.nwlc.org
Title Ix Info: www.titleix.info
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