When I heard that it was Title IX’s 40th anniversary, my first thought was that it would best be commemorated by some great female athlete who could rhapsodize about her experience breaking the, er, net ceiling.
But then I realized that while this landmark legislation, which guaranteed women equal access to athletic and academic opportunities in school, was a life-changer for the more physically gifted among us, its overall impact was likely more felt by less coordinated girls like me.
I was a bookish, pale young woman, the type who hated summer camp. My mother’s idea of roughing it was sitting in our backyard gazebo, and my grandmother told me with absolutely certainty that Jews don’t ski. My great-aunt tried to prevent me from swimming when I was young, as to avoid my inevitable drowning, by insisting that there was a shark in the deep end of the pool. I have carried an irrational fear of sharks in pools ever since.
In short, physical activity was not exactly promoted by the lady folk who raised me. These were New York City transplants doing everything they could to protect themselves from the wilds of a sunny and fecund Southern California. Only department stores were safe.
So, the chances of someone like me playing sports without the sea change caused by Title IX were slim. This was not something that was going to happen in the free-market of preferred little-girl activities. At least not in my house.
No, this required some government — big government — intervention to convince my family that it was perfectly normal and safe for females to spend Saturday afternoons chasing a ball down a field. And for that we have Richard Nixon to thank.
Title IX was a law signed by President Nixon in June 1972 that prohibits sex discrimination in any educational program or activity for institutions receiving any type of federal financial assistance. In 1975, President Ford added to the law a provision that specifically prohibits sex discrimination in athletics.
Before Title IX, only one in 27 girls played high school sports, which included mostly cheerleading and dancing. Scholarships for female athletes were essentially nonexistent, and most university budgets included a measly 2% for women’s teams.
Fast-forward to today, when more than 40% of high school athletes are women, a 904% increase in participation. Also, Division I colleges now spend about 40% of their athletics budget on women’s teams. This isn’t parity, but it is a long way from 2%.
Now, I can’t say that playing soccer or volleyball left me with a great love of those games, or even of sports in general. Not even as a fan.