Friday, September 7, 2012

Thank you Title IX

While contemplating what I wanted to write about for my first blog post a few weeks ago, I almost instantly decided to write something about sports, as athletics have shaped my identity as a woman. I thought about how the law intersects with my athletic experiences and remembered Title IX. As mentioned in a previous post here that discussed women and professional sports, Title IX is now 40 years old. Many laws touch my life everyday that I do not consciously recognize. However, I am keenly aware of Title IX's influence.

Title IX was adopted by Congress and signed into law by President Richard Nixon on June 23, 1972. Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs, such as schools, and other activities that receive federal funding. In practice, this means that men's and women's sports in educational institutions must receive equal funding. Title IX began a new era of female participation in sports, and schools, from grammar schools to colleges, increased the athletic opportunities they offered women. I believe that once more women began playing sports in school, community organizations also began to offer more athletic opportunities for women.

The increase in women's participation in sports was dramatic after the enactment of Title IX. In 1972, 1 in 27 girls participated in some sort of high school sport. As soon as 1978, the number had increased to 1 in 4 girls participating in a high school sport. In addition, the number of female college athletes has increased from 30,000 to 190,000. A 2008 paper by University of Pennsylvania's Betsey Stevenson, which Forbes discusses here, found that because of Title IX and the increased female participation in sports that it produced, more women went to college, women's employment increased (including in male dominated fields), and women saw an increase in wages. In short, Title IX has had a positive influence in the lives of many women.

One of those women who Title IX greatly influenced was me. Due in part to Title IX, even my small town offered athletic opportunities for girls. I loved sports from a young age and started swim team at age six. When I did not receive as many blue ribbons as my older cousins, I had a break down. Yet, I continued to participate and turned my negative energy into positive energy that encouraged me to work toward earning those blue ribbons. At age ten I achieved my goal and received the highest honor for a girl in my age group in my swim league. I learned many lessons through participating in swim team as a child. I learned how to transform negative feelings into motivation for change and improvement. Importantly, I learned that if I worked hard I could achieve anything I wanted.

The confidence I gained from athletics was instrumental in getting me through elementary school. I was a tomboy who played sports with the boys at recess. In third grade I threw a perfect touchdown pass and I will never forget the feeling of accomplishment. The next year when we went to middle school I was told by a fellow female classmate that girls should not play sports with boys during recess. Sadly I listened to her, and I stopped playing basketball and football during recess.  I began hanging out with girls at recess, and many of them were mean. I was teased frequently and placed in embarrassing situations. I began to lose my confidence. However, I continued to swim and I believe that through swimming I was able to deal with my emotions and even if for only a brief moment after swimming a race, regain my confidence.

I took the lessons I learned from my early years as an athlete into junior high and high school athletics and there I grew even more. From elementary school on I played a variety of sports including softball, volleyball, basketball, and swimming, and in high school I finally settled on a rotation of golf, soccer, and track. My high school was very focused on football, and I am sure absent Title IX all available funds likely would have gone to that program instead of to the sports I enjoyed (especially because I knew the football coach and heard him complain about Title IX). Through participation in high school sports I learned the importance of time management. If you have an important game one afternoon and a major test the next day, you have to figure out how to organize your time to be able to do both. It also taught me the importance of humility, how to cooperate with my fellow teammates, and how positive support can lead to success in any endeavor.

Title IX shaped my childhood and through the sports I was able to participate in, I gained confidence and learned valuable lessons that have led me to where I am today. President Obama sees Title IX's importance, as the White House Council on Women and Girls held a 40th anniversary celebration. The President has stepped up enforcement and plans to continue strengthening Title IX's legacy.  Hopefully the efforts of the President (if he remains in office) and women throughout the country will continue to strengthen Title IX and support for women's athletics in the United States will increase. We can never have too many confident women who know they can achieve whatever they desire.

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