by Sara Baker
YWCA Knoxville, Tenn.
Director of Women’s Advocacy and Written Communications
This summer marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded education activities. Title IX revolutionized athletic programs for girls and women, and with the recent retirement of legendary University of Tennessee Lady Vols basketball coach Pat Summitt, it seems fitting for the YWCA Knoxville to recognize this significant anniversary in women’s sports, equal rights, and U.S. history.
To ensure equal opportunity, Title IX requires institutions to pass a three-prong test that covers participation, athletic and financial assistance, and treatment. Critics say Title IX punishes men’s athletics by requiring quotas and forcing institutions to cut men’s teams, but the National Women’s Law Center does a good job of debunking these myths, even pointing out that men’s opportunities have increased.
According to the NCAA, there were 151,918 men and 15,182 women in college sports in 1966-1967, a few years before the passage of Title IX, and 252,946 men and 191,131 women in 2010-2011. That’s a 67 percent increase in male athletes and a 117 percent increase in female athletes. Yes, women’s college enrollment increased substantially over the years, but athletic opportunities would not have corresponded if not for Title IX.
For nine consecutive years, athletic opportunities for both men and women and the number of college athletes themselves have increased. In 2010-2011, more women’s teams than men’s teams were dropped, although more women’s teams were also added, making the net gain nearly even—112 men’s and 113 women’s NCAA teams.
A National Coalition for Women and Girls report commemorating Title IX’s 40th anniversary indicates that hurdles still exist for female athletes, especially women and girls of color, and the law must be better enforced. We still have work to do, but a 25 percent difference in the number of male versus female college athletes is a major improvement over the 90 percent difference four decades prior.
ESPN calls Pat Summitt the face of the Title IX generation. Most of us are familiar with the story by now: Summitt’s salary was $8,900 in 1974; she washed the team’s uniforms and drove the team van. Over the years, both Summitt’s hard work and Title IX allowed the Lady Vols to flourish and legitimized women’s basketball. As with many social changes, success required a combination of strong leadership and legislative change.
The importance of Title IX is not simply how many girls are playing sports, however; it’s what they get out of those opportunities. Studies highlighted by the The New York Times reveal that girls’ participation in sports leads to increases in women’s education and employment rates and decreases in women’s obesity rates. Girls who play sports are less likely to experience teen pregnancy and depression and more likely to experience academic success, high self-esteem, and positive body image.
And we can’t let boys have all the fun while we watch from the sidelines.
This article first appeared on the YWCA Knoxville blog.
Sara Baker, director of women’s advocacy and written communications at the YWCA Knoxville since early 2011, first joined YWCA as a grant writer in 2007. Her previous work for women includes studying women’s roles in India, starting women’s groups in rural Appalachia, working with at-risk girls in inner-city Philadelphia, advocating for women’s health in the U.K., and writing news summaries on women’s rights in Central Asia. Sara holds a Master of Arts in English from the University of Tennessee and a Bachelor of Arts in English and Religion from Maryville College.