Here we are in 2011 and there are still people fighting Title IX, the landmark federal law that has successfully given millions of girls and young women opportunities in athletics that simply didn’t exist before the law was passed.

An advocacy group for men’s and boy’s sports, known as the American Sports Council, is suing the U.S. Department of Education claiming Title IX enforcement at the high school level is unconstitutional because it violates the equal protection clause. The group believes Title IX enforcement will eliminate participation opportunities for boys. See: Advocacy group plans Title IX lawsuit over high schools, USA TODAY.

Education Department spokesman Jim Bradshaw reacted by calling the Title IX enforcement test a “valuable tool” for ensuring a level playing field for all students. “It plays a critical role in ensuring a fundamental level of fairness in America’s schools and universities,” said Bradshaw.

In reviewing the impact of Title IX since 1972, it’s hard to find unfairness or discrimination against males in the law. Before the law, fewer than 300,000 girls participated in high school sports, compared with 3.5 million boys. By 2007-08, the number of girls participating had grown to 3 million. The number of boys participating in high school athletics had also increased, to 4.4 million. See: Group sues over Title IX enforcement, ESPN. Opportunities for both boys and girls have increased, not decreased, since Title IX’s inception. Any drops in sports like wrestling, boys’ tennis, baseball and boys’ gymnastics have been more than made up by significant increases in sports like boys’ lacrosse and boys’ soccer.

It’s a misperception that schools cut male programs to add female programs. The reality is the vast majority of schools comply with Title IX by adding athletic opportunities for girls, not eliminating opportunities for boys. The truth is, Title IX doesn’t mandate decreases in opportunities for male athletes in order to provide increased opportunities for female athletes. Title IX’s purpose is simply to bring treatment — in terms of athletic opportunities — of the disadvantaged gender up to the level of the advantaged gender.

Title IX has been a very popular law in the United States. Close to 82 percent of the American people support Title IX. And the support is broad-based with 86 percent of Democrats and 78 percent of Republicans and independents in favor of the law.

Title IX isn’t just a winner for girls and women. It’s a winner for a fair, just and equitable society.

Football has historically caused a lot of consternation among both Title IX proponents and opponents because of the large number of players on football rosters. There simply isn’t a comparable female sport with similar size rosters. Football can be a giant monkey wrench in the whole Title IX compliance effort. But the bottom line is schools can offer whatever sports they want. If one is football, then the number of opportunities for males in other sports is going to be less because of the huge numbers football requires. With Title IX, it’s the total number of athletic opportunities that’s the key, not the total number of sports programs.

As former University of Arizona president Peter Likins, a former college wrestler, once said, “We have, as a national society, decided that we prefer to allocate the fair distribution of opportunities for male athletes in a peculiar way, assigning very large numbers of these opportunities to one sport (football) and correspondingly contracting the number of men’s sports we can sponsor …”

A classic argument of Title IX antagonists is that females are less interested in sports than males, and thus, require fewer athletic opportunities. There simply is no evidence suggesting that girls are inherently less interested in sports than boys. Historically, the participation rate of girls has been a reflection of opportunities offered them by our culture, not a lack of interest on the part of girls.

Former NCAA president Myles Brand might have put it best when he said, “Athletics participation is of value to both men and women. Let us leave no one behind because we think sport participation is the right of one gender over another.”

Fatima Goss Graves, National Women’s Law Center vice president for education and employment, agrees saying any argument that girls need fewer opportunities than boys in athletics is typically based on stereotypes that girls do not want to play.

“History has shown us that when you give girls the opportunity to play, they do play,” said Goss Graves. “These (new legal complaints) sound like the same arguments they have re-hashed for years and years, trying to use Title IX as a scapegoat when what has really happened is that opportunities for men and women have increased. Rather than looking at this as a zero sum game, they should be looking at ways to increase opportunities for both men and women.”

Amen. In this era of increasing childhood obesity, let’s work together to increase opportunities for both genders.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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