By Ken Reed

Until Title IX was enacted 50 years ago, on June 23, 1972, girls and women interested in sports were typically told to grab a pom-pom, become a cheerleader or pep club member, and cheer hard for the boys.

Sad, shocking and true.

Valerie Bonnette, a Title IX consultant, once pointed out, “Women aren’t born less interested in sports. Society conditions them.” And for decades, American society conditioned girls and women to believe that sports were a special domain for males only.

A federal district court described the socialization process this way:

“Title IX was enacted in order to remedy discrimination that results from stereotyped notions of women’s interests and abilities. Interest and ability rarely develop in a vacuum; they evolve as a function of opportunity and experience.”

Thankfully, things have changed dramatically for girls and women in sports since 1972. In the 1971-1972 school year, only 294,000 high school girls participated in some type of sports activity. By the 2018-2019 school year, that number had jumped to 3.4 million. Women participating in college sports jumped from 32,000 in 1971-1972 to 224,000 in 2019-2020.

And recently, after a long battle, the U.S. women’s national soccer team won equal pay with the men’s national team.

Those gains, and many others, deserve to be celebrated as we observe the 50th anniversary of the enactment of Title IX.

However, not everything is rosy when it comes to gender equality in sports in the United States. Despite the tremendous gains brought about by Title IX, we unfortunately still live in a country in which female athletes continue to be treated unfairly and unjustly in the sports arena.

According to a USA Today study, for every dollar colleges and universities spent on travel, equipment and recruiting for men’s teams in recent years, they spent just 71 cents on women’s teams. Over a two-year period, colleges and universities spent nearly $125 million more for men than women in these budget areas for the sports of basketball, baseball/softball, golf, soccer, swimming and diving, and tennis.

The USA Today analysis used revenue and expense reports schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) — the highest level in Division I — submitted to the NCAA for the 2018-19 and 2019-20 fiscal years. Because the study only looked at sports with comparable men’s and women’s teams, the figures above don’t include football. The discrepancy in spending in college athletics between men’s and women’s athletic programs is even greater when football is considered.

“The saddest part of all of this is that Title IX has been the law for 50 years, and while enormous progress has been made, the vast majority of schools in this country – colleges and universities in this country – are violating Title IX by treating their male athletes, as a whole, way better than their female athletes, as a whole,” said Arthur Bryant, an attorney who has been litigating Title IX cases for decades. “That’s a straight-out violation of Title IX, and it needs to stop.”

Bryant is right, the blatant violations of Title IX must stop. However, the government has been lax in enforcing Title IX over the course of the last 50 years. As such, the onus will likely remain on individual female athletes — and in the case of younger female athletes, their parents — to seek equal justice under the law.

The good news is, anyone can become a Title IX sports reformer. If you come across instances of girls and women being treated unfairly in SportsWorld you can exercise your rights as a citizen and become a sports activist, fighting for equal opportunity in sports for all.

Here are three specific steps you can take:

Pressure the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to Aggressively Enforce Title IX and Improve Education Regarding the Law

The fact is, despite impressive gains, 50 years after Congress passed Title IX, women and girls continue to be denied equal opportunities to participate in athletics based on their gender. Moreover, when given the opportunity to compete, too often they aren’t given equitable resources relative to men and boys.

The OCR is the federal agency responsible for enforcing Title IX. In order to ensure equal opportunity in athletics, the OCR needs to vigorously enforce the implementation of Title IX at all levels of education.

More specifically, the OCR must be more proactive in initiating Title IX compliance reviews, and threatening the denial of Federal funding when necessary, in order to accelerate compliance with Title IX at the middle school, high school and college levels.

While the OCR has initiated some compliance reviews through the years, they have not initiated proceedings to withdraw federal funds from a high school or college for non-compliance with Title IX. Our country’s schools and colleges need to see clear repercussions for failing to comply with Title IX. A law can only be optimally effective if it is aggressively enforced.

Without an active OCR, individuals need to keep fighting for Title IX compliance. Women, and their supporters – male and female — across the country, have been very successful in fighting for female rights in the world of sports by filing civil rights complaints and lawsuits.

File a Title IX complaint With the Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR)

Here’s a link with information on how to file a Title IX complaint with the OCR.

If a filer prefers, complaints can be filed anonymously.

Once the complaint is filed, the OCR has a specified number of days to begin an investigation.

File an Open-Records Request for Male and Female Sports Opportunities and Expenditures in a High School’s Athletic Programs

The raw numbers make it easier to prove discrimination. Any advocate for equal opportunity in sports can pick a school or school district and file an open-records request for sports data. If it is found girls are being treated unequally, in addition to the OCR complaint, a Title IX complaint can be filed with the school, school district administration and local school board.

* * *

Former NCAA president Myles Brand was off-base on many sports issues but when it came to equal opportunity in sports he nailed it.

“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,” said Brand.

Those words should be our country’s marching orders for the next 50 years.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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