By AMANDA VENDER
Back in 1971, only 7.5 percent of high school athletes were girls, according to the U.S. Department of Education. By 2006, 41 percent of high school athletes were girls. This change has improved the quality of life for millions of women and girls around the country. Research shows that women and girls who play sports are far more likely to feel good about themselves and their bodies.
How did so many more girls get interested in sports? A lot of it had to do with a law passed in 1972 called Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned racial discrimination and segregation in schools and public places. Title IX added banning discrimination based on sex.
Title IX (Roman numeral for the number 9) is a law that says: “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…”
Because of Title IX, schools and universities could no longer have a different door for girls and boys to enter buildings, and they could not prevent girls from taking certain courses like auto mechanics and boys from taking home economics.
While the new law didn’t say anything about sports, Title IX wound up having a huge impact on athletics. Before Title IX, much more public money was going to sports programs for boys than for girls. With Title IX, equal opportunities regarding sports, including access to quality equipment, facilities and training, had to be offered to boys and girls.
Sports Are Good for Everyone
– The more time girls spend participating in team sports, the better they feel about their athletic abilities and the higher their self-esteem
– Kids who are more physically active have increased brain function, higher energy and greater concentration
(Women’s Sports Foundation, December 2009 report)
Equal Play Still Far Away
Today, just one out of three high school girls plays sports compared to one out of two high school boys. Not only that, but the sports world is packed with degrading comments and images of women in commercials and the media. “Thus, we have not yet reached the Title IX goal of gender equity,” says Women’s Sports Foundation.
Some Women Sports Trailblazers
Mildred Ella “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias (1911-1956)
Illustration: Gabriela Szpunt
A multisport star, Zaharias won three medals in track and field in the 1932 Olympics and later went on to be a golf star. A journalist asked Babe, “Is there anything at all you don’t play?” She responded, “Yeah, dolls.”
Alice Coachman (born 1923)
In 1948, Coachman became the first African American woman to win an Olympic gold medal (in high jump). She was a prominent athlete of the 1940s and went on to establish the Alice Coachman Track and Field Foundation to give assistance to young athletes.
Billie Jean King (born 1943)
A tennis star and women’s rights activist, King founded the Women’s Sports Foundation. After King won the U.S. Open in 1972 and received $15,000 less in prize money than the winning male player, she called for a strike (refusal to play) by women players if the prize money wasn’t equal the following year. In 1973, the U.S. Open offered equal prize money for men and women, the first major sports competition to do so.
1999 Women’s U.S. National Soccer Team
Before the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, women soccer players were earning only $1,000 a month with a bonus if they won the gold medal. The men would get a bonus whether or not they won. The team decided to go on strike refusing to report to practice and won its demands. The team went on to reach out to fans, conducting soccer clinics for girls around the country. They won the gold at the 1999 World Cup.
The Rutgers University Women’s Basketball Team
In 2007, as the team competed in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship, they were called racist and sexist names by radio host Don Imus. The team and its coach, C. Vivian Stringer, spoke out against the comments and helped get Don Imus fired.
Trailblazers source: A People’s History of Sports in the United States, by Dave Zirin (2008)
Did You Know…?
1. Schools cannot use a myth that “boys are more interested in sports than girls,” to justify providing more participation opportunities for boys than girls? There is no research that shows that boys are more interested in sports than girls.
2. A girl must be allowed to try out for the boys’ team if there is no girls’ team for her in that sport? (According to the Title IX Policy Interpretation)
3. In picture books for young readers, we see girls and women participating in sports activities a lot less than boys?
(Women’s Sports Foundation)