Keep Title IX Alive: Parents Can Be Effective Advocates

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With Title IX’s 40th anniversary next year, there’s good reason to celebrate this landmark legislation that has caused a revolution in sports and throughout education. The law – a mere 37 words in total – provides equal access for men and women in federally-funded education programs and activities, including sports. Since Title IX’s passage, men’s and women’s sports participation opportunities have increased substantially. In collegiate sports, the NCAA reports all-time high sports participation, with 412,768 NCAA student-athletes participating; 57.4% male and 42.6% female. In 2009-10, high school boys and girls participation also reached respective all-time highs, with 4,455,740 boys and 3,172,637 girls.

Yet the gaps between boys and girls opportunities’ are still substantial; high schools, for example, provide our daughters with 1.3 million fewer sports opportunities than our sons, and collegiate women have just 42% of sports opportunities, despite being 57% of the student body.

Compliance with Title IX is not automatic and does not occur without effort and advocacy. While some schools comply, others violate the law – sometimes based on ignorance of what the law requires, but others violate willfully. For example, a New York Times article, “College Teams, Relying on Deception, Undermine Gender Equity,” exposed the fact that some schools purposefully undermine the law by engineering athletic opportunities for women that are incomparable to the opportunities provided to men.  Schools are “counting” women on a team who have not participated in years.  Or, schools are hyper-inflating the size of women’s teams while limiting the size of men’s teams. One Florida school is reporting 204 women on its track program, while failing to start a swimming team. And everyone’s favorite; schools are counting male practice players as women, while counting women on men’s teams as women.  All these practices keep the number of women’s teams artificially low, which is why we’re stuck at just 42%. The Women’s Sports Foundation’s Advocacy department is working to rectify these and other obvious problems.

Inequitable facilities are also a problem. Earlier this year, a Kentucky family sued a school district over a $1 million high school field house set up only for male students to use.  The school didn’t even build female bathrooms. In the Associated Press report, Dick Richards, the father of a 15-year-old girl who runs cross country at North Oldham High School in Goshen, said the new facility creates an unequal playing field for female athletes. Although Title IX legislation has helped women advance in sports, there is still work to be done to expand opportunities for girls to play and live physically active lives. 

Title IX’s application to sports is unique because athletics is the only formally sex-segregated department in education. I urge you to visit your local high school and compare softball and baseball facilities.  My experience tells me you’ll find big differences – differences that you don’t need to be an expert to identify. These obvious differences send important messages not just to the girls and boys who are participating, but to the entire institution and, indeed, the community at-large, about how a school or university values and respects the male and female students it is charged with educating. 

Fulfilling Title IX’s laudable purpose depends upon not just Title IX lawyers, but on parents and communities to advocate effectively and tirelessly on behalf of girls and women, boys and men, for equitable sports and education experiences. As parents, we want our sons and daughters to receive equal educational experiences, including athletics. We want our kids to play not just to become competent at something they might enjoy over their lifetimes, but because of the life-lessons sports has to provide; how to set goals, how to win and lose gracefully, and how to be part of a team, to name just a few. At the Women’s Sports Foundation, helping families help their daughters is our goal; our mission.

Olympic Champion Nancy Hogshead-Makar is the Senior of Director of Advocacy for the Women’s Sports Foundation, a Professor of Law at the Florida Coastal School of Law, and mother of three. For more information, visit www.WomensSportsFoundation.com or www.facebook.com/WomensSportsFoundation.  Follow Nancy on Twitter @Hogshead3au  

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