Wednesday, June 20, 2012

40 Years and Counting: Title IX and the Road to Equality

This week we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the passage of Title IX.  For anyone who still does not know what Title IX is – it’s a federal law passed in 1972 that prohibits sex discrimination in education.  Perhaps the biggest area of Title IX’s impact is high school and college athletics.  I will leave it to others to cite the vast increase in the participation of girls and women in sports since 1972. It is impressive. The sports landscape for girls and women in the United States as a result of Title IX is much improved over the last 40 years. 

Despite this progress, girls’ and women’s sports have still not achieved parity with boys’ and men’s sports, both of which have continued to grow.   No matter the facts, Title IX opponents claim that Title IX has a negative impact on sports programs for boys and men.

When athletic programs cut men’s sports teams, the administrators making these decisions often blame Title IX rather than accepting responsibility for their decisions.  Too often the force behind these decisions is the increasingly untenable believe that men’s football and basketball programs must be protected at all costs. 

In fact, we are in the midst of an unprecedented arms race in which colleges are spending buckets of bucks to upgrade men’s football and basketball. The folly of these decisions is that few college football programs actually make money and their  revenues do not support other sports. Most football programs produce revenue, but they do not make a profit. Football in the vast majority of schools is a costly sport to maintain.  This phantom profit is used as the justification for spending more and more money on football.  It is much easier for administrators to blame Title IX for the elimination of so-called men’s “minor” sports like wrestling, swimming,  tennis and even baseball than to own up to the greed and duplicity that drive these decisions.

Title IX has the overwhelming support of the general public. This includes the moms and dads who have daughters and sons who play school sports.  At its most fundamental level Title IX speaks to these parents who wouldn’t think of discriminating against one of their children at the expense of the other. 

My favorite test of assessing equity between men’s and women’s sports programs in a school is this: Would the participants and coaches in one gender’s athletic program happily trade places with and participate in the athletic program of the other gender.  If all resources, media coverage, scheduling, support mechanisms, etc. are equal, this would be an easy decision.  Unfortunately, in many schools the truth is that boys and men would never trade because they know it would be a step down to accept what the girls and women have.

So while we celebrate the progress Title IX has brought, let us not forget that we are still on the journey to equality in sports for women and men. We still have a lot of work to do.  We still need to be vigilant.  Those of us who are committed to equality and social justice in sport should take a moment to celebrate how far we have come and then get back on the road to achieving real equality in sport.