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Women, Sport,
and Film - 2003


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Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments: a question of equity

Mary Jayne

ESS 200 Web Paper I
Sport in Search of the American Dream March 6, 2003
Professor Christine Shelton Mary W. Jayne

Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments: a question of equity
As long as there has been a United States of America, there have been Americans proclaiming that their nation offers all its citizens equality of opportunity. Today, that claim is usually surrounded and reinforced by expansive phrases such as: "regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, class, religious persuasion or sexual orientation". Not so long ago, however, that grand perception of equality was, in fact, circumscribed in countless ways for Americans of minority races, for those born in other lands and especially for women. In the arena of sports and physical education, certainly, the last one hundred years of U. S. history reveal one clear example after another of obstacles placed in the path of women who yearned for full opportunity to participate in sport.

Before the turn of the last century, physical exercise for women and girls was a controversial subject. It was assumed that a woman's primary role was to marry and have children and that too much or too strenuous a level of physical activity might harm her delicate constitution or, worse yet, her capacity to bear and nurture children. Calis-thenics were introduced into the curriculums of girls' schools to promote health, vigor and physical attractiveness. Not much else was offered, however. In the early 1890's, James Naismith developed the game of basketball in Springfield, Massachusetts, and shortly afterward, women began playing the game at nearby Smith College, supervised by the influential physical education director Senda Berenson.

The new sport caught on immediately and, within the decade, "Official Women's Basketball Rules" were codified and promulgated. In fact, the new sport brought growth in physical education programs for girls and women across the country throughout the next twenty years. Following the First World War, expanding opportunities for both women and men to enjoy sport as a recreational pursuit presented themselves. New wealth offered Americans leisure time and for many, healthy physical activity was the most pleasurable way to spend it. Women assumed an important role in the economy while men fought overseas during World War II, and they entered the post-war years more emancipated than ever. The new freedoms translated to a focus on competitive sport for women, rather than just recreational "play". With the coming of an era marked by advances in civil rights for those formerly denied them, the concepts of women's liberation spread into women's sports during the 1960's and '70's. Women's teams at high school and college and university levels played at an ever increasing level of intensity. In 1973, amid a summer of hype attaching to the match, Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs on the tennis court.

"No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance," proclaimed Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Women may not have been successful at adding the Equal Rights Amendment to the U. S. Constitution during the 1970's and '80's but Title IX was an equal rights amendment for women in sport, at least. For the remaining years of the 20th century, Title IX brought about a sea change in the way high school and college women athletes were empowered and financially supported to train and compete. Rippling out from this were wide-ranging effects on young girls and even older women, who began to perceive of themselves as potential athletes.

Amid all the positive effects of Title IX, though, were interposed some unforeseen set-backs. Before enactment of Title IX, the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, (AIAW), had been the governing body of women's college-level competitive athletics. Plenty of authoritative leadership roles had existed for women coaches and administrators within its ranks. As fully funded women's athletic programs became established on college and university campuses in the wake of Title IX, operating on a basis of full equity with men's programs, inevitable conflict arose between the women's organization and the men's National Collegiate Athletic Association, (NCAA). Ultimate-ly, some level of female participation in NCAA was seen to be the logical replacement for two competing organizations existing side by side. As this process of dissolution and merger evolved, a sharp reduction in administrative and coaching jobs for women in college athletic programs resulted.

With the advent of the 21st century has come heightened controversy regarding Title IX. The claim is made that men's college sports programs have been negatively impacted by compliance with the provisions of Title IX. While hugely expensive men's football and basketball programs are still being accommodated, more minor sports such as men's wrestling have been dropped on a number of campuses. Women counter that equity of female to male participation and funding support in college athletics has still not been reached, making it wrong to even consider relaxing the push for full compliance with the provisions of Title IX. Nevertheless, there has been a Commission formed to reexamine Title IX and make recommendations to the Secretary of Education on possible changes in approach. So far, no detailed determination has been rendered by Secretary Paige in response to recommendations from the Commission, but there has been a full-throated cry put forth in the press to rise to the defense of Title IX. It seems that in the thirty years since its enactment, the legislation has captured a place of honor in the annals of American attempts to redress unfair lack of opportunity offered to its citizens. Not only have thousands of girls and women been given new opportunities to train and compete in school and college athletics and to earn good salaries in professional sport, but the image of women-as-athletes has been vigorously promoted throughout the land. Thus, women athletes are benefited as are those women who hope to one day become athletes and those who simply want to live healthier lives by participating in vigorous physical exercise. Title IX is a definite win-win for all women, for all Americans. As such, it must never be whittled back, not one notch.

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