Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Title IX: Game Changer, Life Changer

Last June's Title IX Celebration at Nike.

  Before I was even born, lawmakers were looking out for me, ensuring that my tall self would be able to play sports. I've previously written about the impact sports, namely basketball, has had on my life (Following Your Passion).

  Not many days pass where I don't remind myself how lucky I've been to be able to pursue the career I have, and be able to do what I love for a living.

  Participating in basketball helped give me an identity, a platform, a passion, it improved my self-confidence, and provided me with countless incredible experiences -- that continue to this day.

  So you'll have to understand, I firmly believe that every boy and girl should be allowed those same experiences growing up. 

The Law
  In 1972, a piece of legislation was passed in the US that changed the entire landscape for girls and women in sport. Title IX, ironically enough, was not written with athletics in mind. 
"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 educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."
  Simply stated, Title IX requires gender equity for boys and girls in every educational program that receives federal funding.

  When it was first written, Title IX was meant to address equal funding and access in 10 different areas: Access to Higher Education, Career Education, Education for Pregnant and Parenting Students, Employment, Learning Environment, Math and Science, Sexual Harassment, Standardized Testing and Technology.

  But where girls and women really took advantage of the new law, was in the realm of athletics: Title IX has become synonymous with girls' participation in sports.

She climbed Mt. St. Helens. I think my mom would have liked sports too.
Evolution of Girls' Sports
  Prior to Title IX's passage, the accessibility to sports by females, many times, was dependent on what part of the country they lived.

  For example, my mom, who grew up in Portland, didn't have access to team sports in high school. She could swim, play tennis, run track, or play golf.

  In the Midwest and East, girls were able to play team sports, like basketball (correct me if I'm wrong), but it was the half court, six-on-six variety.

  Across the board however, once girls graduated high school, their chances to continue playing dwindled.

  My mom grew up in a family of athletes (my uncle Mike played football at UW, and my uncle Rob played professional baseball). But because she grew up in a pre-Title IX era, my mom wasn't afforded those same opportunities.

Not an easy hike, as you can see!
  I know she would have loved participating in sports (for many reasons), if only to have been able to answer 'yes' to the countless people who have asked her 'you're tall, do you play sports?'. (Not to say that if you're tall you HAVE to be an athlete, or that athletes can ONLY be tall. But you know how many times people are asked 'do you play basketball?' even if you are just a little bit taller than average!)

  Fast forward to today's America, there are over 3 million girls participating in high school athletics (versus 294,015 one year prior to Title IX becoming law), and nearly 170,000 female varsity collegiate athletes (compared to just 29,972 in 1971).

  For those who argue that Title IX takes away from boys/men's sports, both statistics have risen on the male side too.

  While the arms of Title IX don't touch professional sports in the US, you can't help but think that the law has also had an impact on professional women's sports as well. Now, we have collegiate and professional female athletes in the public eye, setting examples for the next generation of athletes.

  Girls' athletics have progressed exponentially in the 40 years since Title IX's passage. And if we keep playing, and keep encouraging young girls to play, women's sports will continue to boom. 

Benefit of Sport
  Participating in athletics has far greater impact than solely what happens on the court or the field. Sure, playing the game is great, but there are aspects to sports that go far deeper than just playing a game. The benefits of girls' participation in sports is immeasurable, but here are a few of proven benefits:
  • higher than average levels of self-esteem and lower levels of depression.
  • reduced rates of body dissatisfaction and eating disorders.
  • learn valuable life skills that will be useful later in life. Women will learn to collaborate with others, dedication, and perseverance.
  • female athletes have better grades and higher graduation rates than non-athlete females.
  • teenage female athletes are less likely to illicit drugs, less likely to be suicidal, less likely to smoke and more likely to have positive body images than female non-athletes.
  • young women who participated in sports were more likely to be engaged in volunteering, be registered to vote, feel comfortable making a public statement, follow the news, and boycott than young women who had not participated in sports.
  The world of athletics is far-reaching, and can impact girls' lives every way imaginable.

Shy, first grade me.
Title IX's Impact on Me
  I grew up watching and admiring the local high school athletes in the Portland area. As I grew older, my eye turned to the collegiate and Olympic ranks for role models: the Oregon State women's basketball team, the 1996 US Women's National team with Sheryl Swoopes, Lisa Leslie, and Katy Steding (who hailed from my hometown of Lake Oswego).

  Those athletes looked like me, they were women I could identify with, and strive to be like.

  Watching them helped me realize there was a lot that could be done on the basketball court. And if I wanted, the game could take me many, many places. It seemed the more I watched them, the more I wanted to play. And in turn, the more I played, the better I became.

2006-07: Playing in Poland.
  Sports opened up a whole new world to me. Who knew that years later, I'd still be playing, and doors would still be opening. Without Title IX, none of that would have been possible. Maybe there would have been sports to play, but certainly not to degree that they are played today.

Title IX Celebration
  Last summer, I was invited to participate in a Nike event celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Title IX. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity. Help promote athletics to youth, while at the same time celebrating all
the female athletes that came before me? I was thrilled to be included!

With Stella at Nike event.
  I took my then-eight year-old niece Stella with me. We had a fun day at the Nike World Headquarters playing basketball, celebrating Title IX and all the athletes who have benefited from its passage. I tried explaining the importance of Title IX to Stella, but I'm sure she'll need a few reminders at some point.

    She met Lisa Leslie and played basketball with her daughter, saw giant posters of Maria Sharapova, Abby Wambach, Allyson Felix, and Hope Solo throughout the WHQ campus. Now, maybe a new world has opened to Stella, and the other girls (and boys!) who participated in the event that day too.

Stella under Lisa Leslie's banner.
  To be honest, I don't know how you can argue against Title IX (but I guess I might be biased). Why
shouldn't every child, boy or girl, have the same opportunities? If institutions weren't forced to fund girls/women's sports in 1972, why should we believe that they would have eventually done it out of the goodness of their hearts?

  Politics aside, girls participating in athletics results in great things for everyone.

  While there are still disparities in funding and other areas (coaching, for example: The Glass Wall), women's athletics has come a long way in 40 years. I think it's important to keep Title IX in the forefront, and not let the law that has impacted so many lives in such a profound way fall by the wayside.

  I grew up playing basketball in the front yard with my dad and brother, and soccer, baseball, and basketball with the boys (and a few other girls) on the playground at recess. I don't know how we develop an interest in one thing over another. But just having the opportunity to play, and being allowed to make the decision for myself, was a life changer for me.

  I'm grateful for the world of athletics being opened to me. So here's a big thanks to the proponents of Title IX, and the athletes who paved the way for me!

History of Title IX
Title IX: Get the Facts
Athletic Statistics

Nike released a new film entitled “Voices” to celebrate women in sport on the 40th anniversary of Title IX:


  1. In Iowa, the six on six game was only available in rural schools when I was growing up. The larger city schools (I went to school in Des Moines) did not start girls' basketball until 1976, I think. They've been successful--state champs in last six on six tourney and in 2011.

    Sports available to me in high school were synchronized swimming, tennis and golf.

    I grew up watching girls' basketball as my mom had played (she had a left handed hook) and we watched the local teams before moving to Des Moines. Every year we went to the state tournament. I so wanted to play. We played in the backyard, but there was no team to play on.

    1. I honestly would love to hear what the different experiences were throughout the country. I just have family in Oregon, so only know what the norm was here. I think what was available varied significantly.

      All I I thank my lucky stars. :)