Celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Title IX, Just Don't Get Too Carried Away

Mike MattesContributor IIIJune 23, 2012

Today marks the 40th anniversary of one of the most historic pieces of federal legislation pertaining to athletics ever signed into law, one that leveled the playing field for both boys and girls and attempted to abolish the overt gender discrimination that ran rampant in organized sports.

On June 23, 1972, President Richard Nixon signed a new law requiring equal opportunities for both genders in all aspects of education including, but not limited to, athletics.

The law never actually mentions sports in clear-cut terms, but its basic language pretty much requires any educational institution that receives federal dollars to provide equal treatment for both genders in three main areas regarding athletics: opportunities for participation, athletic financial assistance and the actual treatment of student-athletes.

The law is commonly referred to as Title IX, and there is no denying the incredibly positive impact it has had on female athletes in America since its passage. (Click here for a succinct yet very informative summary of the entire law).

According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, female participation in high school sports has increased by 900 percent since 1972, and it has risen by 500 percent at the collegiate level during the same time period.

Since 1972, more and more young girls have been stepping away from Barbie’s Dream House and are instead walking out onto the basketball court or the soccer field.

Society has realized that young girls need to be exposed to a multitude of life skills in order to lead a well-balanced and successful lifestyle, and this includes athletics.

Many studies have shown that females that participate in sports from a young age are less likely to have unwanted pregnancies, poor grades and self-esteem issues. Many reports have even indicated that female athletes often earn higher professional salaries.

Unfortunately, Title IX did not completely rid the world of athletic gender discrimination and bias.

The WSF claims that, today, between 80 and 90 percent of all federally funded institutions are technically not in compliance with the law, and that these places have been getting away with it for years.

They are quick to point out that sports such as football and men’s basketball often receive most of the attention, and other athletic programs, including both women’s and men’s programs, often get the shaft.

If this really is the case, then institutions that violate this law should be adequately reprimanded.

Title IX is one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation passed in this country within the last half-century, and it should be respected by educational institutions everywhere. The immensely positive impact it has had on society should be celebrated, and perhaps there are a few educational facilities that need to begin taking it more seriously.

But to complain about the fact that many men’s sports are simply more popular than most female athletics is just ignorant.

Although baseball will always be referred to as “America’s national pastime,” there is no doubt that football is the most popular sport in the country.

According to Nielsen, last season's NFL games were watched by an average of 17.5 million viewers each week during a season in which the league was also able to bring in over 200 million unique viewers. Of the Top 25 most-watched television programs last fall, 23 of them were NFL games.

Football also continues to be the most popular organized sport in the country at both the high school and collegiate levels, so it should come as no surprise that football is quite often on the forefront of most athletic directors’ minds.

Unfortunately, there is no female equivalent to the sport of football due to its extremely physically demanding nature, so complaining about the sport’s extreme popularity is a bit unfair.

Football is one of the nation’s most beloved entertainment outlets for individuals of both genders to enjoy, whether it be through playing the sport or simply viewing it. It is woven so deeply into the fabric of America that it seems as though the country could simply not function without its existence.

As previously stated, if any institutions are found guilty of providing unequal shares of federal funds to their football programs at the expense of other athletic teams, then they should be punished.

But it is ridiculous to get upset over the fact that, when given the choice between a football game and a women’s ice hockey match, the vast majority of the population is always going to go with the former rather than the latter.

To be fair, let’s look at the sport of basketball in order to make a more legitimate comparison between the two genders.

Of the nation’s four most popular sports (football, basketball, baseball and hockey), basketball and baseball/softball are the two that seem to have the most similarities between the two genders in terms of rules, general gameplay and equipment requirements.

Even still, this is where the comparison pretty much ends.

Even though the WNBA was created in order to give women a professional basketball league, it will never even come close to reaching the popularity and attendance rates of the NBA. Again, this should come as a surprise to no one, but there are still those out there that cannot seem to accept it.

While the game is played in virtually the same manner in both leagues, the WNBA does not have alley-oops, high-flying dunks and jaw-dropping athletic moves that keep the fans glued to their seats.

Of course, there are many talented professional female basketball players out there. They deserve great praise for their efforts in making the sport more desirable for countless young girls in America since the league’s inception in 1997.

Still, please stop comparing it to the NBA, because it is truly not fair to any of the parties involved.

Plus, it’s not like female athletics never receive any media attention.

How could anyone forget the incredible run that the U.S. women’s national soccer team had in the 2011 Women’s World Cup, when they made it all the way to the championship game before losing to Japan on a penalty shootout?

People throughout the entire nation, even those who had never paid any attention to the sport of soccer whatsoever, were absolutely captivated by Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, Hope Solo and the rest of the resilient crew last summer.

Of course, we have not heard much about them since last year, but there is no doubt that the ladies are sure to capture Americans' hearts once again just as soon as the 2012 Summer Olympics kick off this August in London.

It was very pleasing to see ESPN devote numerous hours of coverage to the legendary Pat Summitt, undoubtedly the greatest female basketball coach of all time, on the day that she announced she needed to step away from the game due to early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

All day, fans were able to see historical accounts, tributes and interviews with various athletes and coaches that were touched by the legendary Summitt, as everyone celebrated her incredible legacy.

It was sad for any true sports fan to see such an icon walk away from the game that she loved due to illness, but it was also very nice to see her receive the recognition that she so rightfully deserved.

So again, it is not so much that female athletics are completely neglected in this country, but rather that they are simply not as popular as many of their male counterparts.

Could more female sporting events be shown on major networks? Yes.

Could female athletics receive a larger percentage of national media coverage, which currently stands at only four percent? Absolutely.

But, unfortunately, this will never happen because men's athletics, particularly football and basketball, are what bring the people to the seats.

To be very clear, this article is not intended to be condescending or derogatory toward female athletes, or females everywhere, for that matter. Title IX is a revolutionary piece of federal legislation that should be celebrated throughout the nation, and its impact on society has been nothing but incredibly positive.

Just stop always trying to have female athletics compete on an even keel with men’s athletics.

In most cases, the male version of the sport will always win out over its female counterpart, and truthfully, there should not be any reason why this is an issue.

Plain and simple, men’s athletics are often able to provide certain types of entertainment value that female athletics cannot, whether it be because another comparable female sport does not exist or because women are not always able to perform athletically in some of the ways that many males can.

Sorry to be so blunt, but that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.

Instead of complaining about what Title IX has not been able to accomplish, let’s make sure to recognize all that it actually has.

Young girls everywhere should continue to be encouraged to explore the world of sports in order to help ensure that they lead the healthiest lives possible, because there is no denying the incredibly positive benefits that organized sports can provide to young people everywhere.

So, today should be a day devoted to strictly celebrating this historic law, and not complaining about the fact that it has never been able to achieve unrealistic goals. Title IX has been nothing but an outright success, and it should continue to be treated to as such.


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