The Legacy of Title IX, 40 Years Later

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This past Friday at Negoesco Stadium, a routine spectacle evincing the import of women’s sports at USF unfolded. As I entered the modest sports arena from Parker Avenue, the sky loomed, clear and blue with streaks of soft cirrus clouds, over the pristine turf of the field. The evening dusk was setting in as a man’s voice announced the members of the USF women’s soccer team over the loud speakers. Peals of applause came from the parents and friends of athletes seated on both flanks of the bleachers.

Then, as a student sang his rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” I could see the teammates’ eyes beaming with pride. Though sports are often seen as competitive, at this moment everyone, regardless of school, age, race, or gender affiliation, was sharing in this remarkable tradition of American spirit.

Now rewind to 40 years ago, before the enactment into federal law of a potent gender-equality edict: a section of the Education Amendments of 1972 famously known as “Title IX.” From this point in history, one would have a much different view of a soccer game. Certainly, you would not see many – if any – females on the playing field. Maybe one would see young women pining to put on a pair of cleats, often in secret (lest they should be labeled pariahs) and to no avail. Parents rarely endorsed their daughters’ involvement in athletics, deeming it “too manly” for a woman, and this trend pervaded American society.

Thanks to the seminal legislation of Title IX, though, any female with an athletic metier can get on the field and receive the recognition she deserves, with not only USF to back her up but a constitutional mandate, as well.

President Richard Nixon signed the bill carrying Title IX on June 23, 1972. Having just celebrated its 40th birthday this year, the law is making its way “over the hill,” as it were, and it’s about time to reflect on its meaning and impact.

Stated in its legal form, Title IX declares: “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 financial assistance.”

Though never making any exclusive reference to sports (in fact, Title IX had stipulations against sex discrimination in many other areas, like male-dominated science and math research, as well as statutes against sexual harassment), the mandate withal became synonymous with jump-starting female athletics programs.

At the core of this invaluable writ is a basic humanistic instinct to ensure that every individual can pursue his or her dreams and talents, free of reproach from others.

After the resounding tones of the National Anthem faded from Negoesco, I approached Jim Millinder, the compassionate, goatee-bearded head coach of USF’s women’s soccer team, to hear his opinion on Title IX. Appropriately, he felt that what mattered most was the way it gave birth to “the belief that it’s actually okay to be an athlete, even if it does seem ‘different’.”

Bringing this belief to fruition was a slow transition, rife with adversity and resistance. Ultimately it would engender a seachange in the sports, not to mention the a change in the overall cultural landscape of the United States.

Just as Brown v. Board of Education had George Wallace to stand in its way, Title IX had a number of non-compliants, too. Disproportionate distribution of funds for men and women sports programs at colleges and high schools around the country persisted, and the de facto social mandate that women should not step foot on the playing field caused resistant coaches to perceive Title IX as part of a threatening feminist foray into “man’s territory.”

Breaching this boundary was often accomplished by a few brave females who infiltrated the ranks of all-men sports teams, often to the detriment of their social reputations. These outlier’s demonstration of athletic prowess would plant the seed that would eventually lead to the emergence of similarly sized and scaled women’s programs across the nation.

Regarding the intrinsic value found in sports, Millinder fondly alludes to his young daughter’s involvement in basketball, noting just how much he has watched her learn and develop from the team’s stabilizing influences of cooperation and discipline.
In stark dissension to the stereotype of women as dainty damsels in distress which Title IX seeks to bury, the Head Coach claims, “at USF, we try to create strong, confident, powerful women.”

To emphasize that the ordinance represents a wave of socio-moral zeitgeist for our country, I will leave the reader with Barack Obama’s promise from a Newsweek article on his unflagging support of Title IX’s goals: “I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure that this country remains the place where, no matter who you are or what you look like, you can make it if you try.”

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