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Students at Young Women's Leadership Charter school listen to representatives from Girls in the Game and the WNBA's Chicago Sky Wednesday about the impact of Title IX in honor of National Girls and Women in Sports Day.

How far have we come since 1972? Title IX advocates say not far enough

by Ali Durkin
Feb 01, 2012

Ali Durkin/MEDILL

Melissa Parker, Programs Director of Girls in the Game, talks to students at Young Women's Leadership Charter School about her experience being discriminated against as a female athlete. 

In 1972 gasoline was 55 cents a gallon, Kodak was the leader in personal photography with its $28 pocket camera – and very few girls got to play high school or college sports.

Inflation changed prices, technology upended Kodak, and Title IX opened high school and college locker rooms to women.

On Wednesday athletes, advocates and students gathered to celebrate the upcoming 40th anniversary of the passage of the federal Title IX act in June.

“Please don’t take it for granted. Because it wasn’t there when I was in your seat and it might not be there 40 years from now if we all don’t work together to protect it,” said Margaret Stender, minority owner and chairman of the WNBA's Chicago Sky, at a press conference Wednesday at Young Women’s Leadership Charter School.

There have been continuing legal assaults on Title IX since its passage, including a lawsuit last summer by the American Sports Council to block applying quotas to high school athletics.

At events in Chicago and across the country, organizations celebrated what Title IX has accomplished for women’s athletics and advocated for changes that still need take place.

Title IX broadly states that schools cannot discriminate on the basis of sex, said Neena Chaudhry of the National Women’s Law Center.  While Title IX prohibits discrimination in any education program or activity, it has received the most visibility in providing equal opportunities for boys and girls to play sports, Chaudhry said.

A three-part test determines whether a school is in compliance with Title IX. The primary test is whether the number of male and female athletes at the school is proportionate to the number of male and females enrolled.

Since Title IX was passed in 1972, “we’ve seen an explosion in the number of girls playing sports,” Chaudhry said. There has been a 456 percent increase in the number of female NCAA varsity athletes in that time, according to the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education.

“Work still needs to be done,” said Amy Skeen, president and CEO of Chicago-based Girls in the Game at Wednesday’s press conference.

Today, there are 1.3 million fewer opportunities for girls to play sports in high school than there are for boys, according to the National Women’s Law Center. While 51 percent of the students are women, female athletes get only 42 percent of the scholarship dollars at an average Division I-FBS school.

Advocates are pushing passage of a bill to require online posting of information for high schools, including the number of athletes and athletic budgets, said Nancy Hogshead-Makar, three-time Olympic gold medalist in swimming and senior director of advocacy for the Women’s Sports Foundation. Colleges are already required to provide this information online.

The continued fight for equality in women’s sports is necessary as sports have been shown to have a positive effect on women’s lives off the court or field, advocates say. Studies show that women who play sports experience greater academic success and increased career opportunities, according to the National Women’s Law Center.

Shannon Tully, women’s tennis coach at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said her experience in sports has taught her how to build interpersonal relationships on a team.

Athletics also prepares women for world after college by giving them an edge in terms of competiveness while teaching them how to handle criticism, said Carol Rhoades, women’s golf coach at UIC.

“I am very proud of my Olympic gold medals,” Hogshead-Makar said. “But the best thing I got out of it was a sense of discipline.”

Critics of Title IX argue that it has been distorted to the point that the legislation puts male athletes at a disadvantage by cutting men's teams to add more women's teams.

“A law that simply stated that no one shall be denied educational opportunity because of his or her sex now, through an interpretation that relies on proportionality, demands precisely that,” wrote Leo Kocher, men’s wrestling coach at the University of Chicago.

But Title IX supporters stress that both men and women have benefited from the legislation. There has been an increase in the number of men and women athletes since 1972, Skeen said.

“There’s a good public policy reason why we should be doubling athletic departments for boys and girls,” Hogshead-Makar said. “Title IX is good for everybody.”