Posted by: JanF | March 15, 2012

Women’s History – It’s about the opportunity

I had planned to do an essay on women in sports and touch briefly on Title IX, the law that requires colleges and universities who receive federal funds to provide equal opportunities for their female student athletes. As so often happens, when I sat down in front of my monitor and placed my hands on my keyboard and mouse and started researching, something entirely different jumped onto the page.

Women have competed in sports as Olympians, as professional baseball players and more recently in professional softball and soccer leagues. But this is not going to be about women in professional sports … it is going to be about what the opportunity to play sports and what having a chance to get an athletic scholarship can do for women.

The most significant piece of legislation related to women’s sports was Title IX, renamed in 2002 to the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act. The renaming was probably necessary because athletic directors at major universities had tried to rename it “Wahhh! We Have to Cancel Our Men’s [fill in the blank] Varsity Program Because Girls Want to Play Sports” Act. I won’t get into that fight here. You can find it in the comment threads of any article about women’s college sports posted online. First comment: “We have a women’s basketball team?” Second comment: “They should never have cancelled the men’s [fill in the blank] varsity program.”

Title IX was not about Us vs Them, Big Revenue Sports vs No Revenue Sports. It was about this (from a lecture by Dr. Barbara A. Hedges, Director of Athletics, University of Washington, no longer online):

Women who are active in sports and recreational activities as girls feel greater confidence, self-esteem, and pride in their physical and social selves than those who were sedentary as children. High school girls and boys who participate in sports have higher grades than non-athletes.

and this …

The opportunities provided through athletics for women and minorities in the past thirty years are unparalleled in higher education. The students, our institutions, and our society as a whole have been the beneficiaries.

Those of us who were in high school before Title IX became the law of the land had to find or make our own sports opportunities. Take a peek at these numbers if you think that Title IX did not dramatically change the landscape for girls and women:

The enactment of Title IX has helped increase participation opportunities for girls and women in sports. Female high school athletic participation has increased by 904% and female collegiate athletic participation has increased by 456%.

In 1970, only 1 out of every 27 high school girls played varsity sports. Today, that figure is one in 2.5. Female high school participation increased from 294,015 in 1971 to 2,472,043 in 1997. College participation has more than tripled, from 31,000 to 128,208.

Title IX was not about making sure there are more women in sports in order to promote women’s professional sports, although that is a side benefit.

It was about giving women a chance at a college education that they might not have otherwise been able to afford all the while learning the value of teamwork and competition.

This cute video from the NCAA is a reminder of that:

(“Most of our student athletes go pro in something other than sports”)

It is also about creating role models for our daughters … role models that would not exist without collegiate athletics.

The Kazmaier Award is given to the top NCAA women’s hockey player and is named after Patty Kazmaier, a Princeton defenseman who died of a rare blood disease in 1990 at the age of 28.


Meghan Duggan, UW Badger: Accepting Patty Kazmaier Award.

Meghan Duggan was not just a great college hockey player. She was a great teammate.

And she has a degree in biology and planned to go to medical school to study pediatrics following in the footsteps (skates?) of Sara Bauer, the first Badger to win the Kazmaier award back in 2006 who did the same (after graduating with a 3.98 GPA and a degree in kinesiology).

And that is the opportunity that all women deserve.

The theme for Women’s History Month in 2012 is Education and Opportunity. Visit the the National Women’s History Project web site for more information: www.nwhp.org

This is the third in a series of posts (some originally published in 2011) celebrating Women’s History Month.

(A version of this was originally posted on 03/23/2011 at BPI Campus)

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