June 23rd marks the 43rd anniversary of Title IX. This initially small amendment, was first passed in 1972. It has had an immense impact on women and girl’s access to education and often most notably, to their participation in sports and athletics. The law 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 education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Prior to the passage of title IX, women had few opportunities in athletics beyond what they organized themselves and their teams were often looked at as second rate. There was no funding and women were often actively discouraged and discriminated against. Many are familiar with the story of Katherine Switzer who, in 1967, ran the Boston Marathon and was chased and harassed by a race official. Women’s teams in high school and college had to purchase their own uniforms. They were discouraged from publicizing their accomplishments and had to raise money for their own equipment and travel expenses.
Title IX was sponsored and championed by Birch Bayh of the Senate and Edith Green of the House of Representatives. Ms. Green worked in higher education for many years and was, “appalled to learn that public schools could create special programs for boys that excluded girls.” Ms. Green’s efforts to pass a bill to level the playing field were unsuccessful at first. Her cause failed to garner interest and many couldn’t be convinced that women actually wanted equal access to education. She waited until a larger education bill was coming before the house to add in her amendment. Title IX passed with little notice or consideration.
After this, however, the effects of this law began to be felt. Billie Jean King, who attended college prior to the passage of Title IX and was unable to get a tennis scholarship, began rallying for higher pay and equal treatment of female tennis players. She famously beat Bobby Riggs in the “Battle of the Sexes” and later said, “Title IX had just passed and I...wanted to change the hearts and minds of people to match the legislation.” Soon scholarships and funding for equipment, uniforms, and travel were available.
These changes did not come without opposition. Since 1975 there have been 20 court challenges against the law. In 1984 the law was reinterpreted to exclude athletics, rendering it powerless in that area. Its original intent was restored in 1988. The most recent attempt to undermine Title IX was, shockingly, in 2005.
Despite these challenges, there is no denying the widespread impact Title IX has had. In 1972, fewer than 300,000 girls played high school sports. Today the count is over 3 million. Girls can participate in youth sports, there are high school and college teams for men and women, women can receive athletic scholarships, and women can represent our country at the Olympics. Thankfully, it’s now difficult to imagine a time when these opportunities weren’t available. Title IX helped legitimize women’s sports in big ways and showed the world the power of the female athlete.
Author, Molly Malone