It is a funny coincidence to me that in the same week that the change in the Title IX women’s sport policy was announced, I had the opportunity to speak at the Girls in Sport Symposium held at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. At that symposium, conversations focused upon both the increasing opportunities for girls and women in sport and the persistent lack of equality in terms of these and related opportunities.
Clearly, the Obama administration is bothered by the inequities that remain in the opportunities available to girls and women in sport. As a result, the Obama administration has eradicated a “loophole” in the enforcement of the Title IX policy that was put in place by the Bush administration in 2005. The change in policy is focused upon the particular method that is used to assess women’s interest in collegiate sport. The Obama administration believes that their recent change of the policy will allow for a more fair representation of the interest of a student body so that the methods for demonstrating compliance with Title IX are accurately assessed. This change in policy is being praised by the NCAA and by advocates of women’s sports.
Obviously, Title IX has gone a long way to increase the opportunities available for girls and women in sport. And, this tightening of compliance requirements for schools will help to insure that Title IX is implemented as intended. That being said, there is still room for improvement in terms of gender equity in sport. As Education Secretary Arne Duncan described, “There is no doubt that Title IX has dramatically increased athletic, academic, and employment opportunities for women and girls, and educational institutions have made big strides in providing equal opportunities in sports. Yet discrimination continues to exist in college athletic programs — and we should be vigilant in enforcing the law and protecting this important civil right.”
Evidence of a lack of equality abounds. Every time I am reminded of this, it makes me want to SCREAM. It’s 2010 and women are still having to fight to be treated equally and to be given the same opportunities as men. Here’s an example. In the Olympics, the opportunities for women to compete have seen steady growth. But, currently women only compete in about 75% as many events as men at the Summer Olympics and in approximately 60% as many events as men in the Winter Olympics. In colleges, 55% of students are women, but only 43% of college athletes are women. In high schools, 49% of students are girls, but only 41% of high school athletes are girls (source: Jill Dougherty, April 20, 2010, Biden announces change in Title IX women’s sports policy at http://www.cnn.com/2010/POLITICS/04/20/biden.title.ix/index.html). Further, if we examine coaching opportunities for women, we also see an inequity that boggles the mind. Prior to the passage of Title IX, 90% of NCAA women’s teams were coached by women. Over the last 20 years, only approximately 45% of NCAA women’s team have had female coaches. And, if we look beyond sport, we see that women are still treated inequitably in the job market – women who work full time and who have never taken time off to raise a family still make 89 cents for every dollar earned by a man with the same experience and in the same position (source: Shankar Vedantam, July 30, 2007, Salary, Gender and the Social Cost of Haggling at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07/29/AR2007072900827.html).
When looking beyond Title IX, I was reminded during a presentation at the Girls in Sport Symposium by Dr. Deanne Brooks of the importance of thinking of equality in sport at a broader level. For example, think about sport opportunities relative to race, socioeconomic status, disability, religion, and sexual orientation. I do not believe anyone could possibly believe that there is equal opportunity for all people. Clearly, this issue goes well beyond legislation targeted at educational institutions because the discrepancies are evident even in youth sport. Here’s a simple test – go to one of the search engines for images and type in “youth basketball team”. Look at the pictures of the teams and think about their racial makeup. Then, type in “youth soccer team”. The evidence is there for all to see – access to sport remains unequal with regard to race. Evidence is also available for other groups of persons who clearly do not have equal access to sport opportunities.
So, what are we supposed to do with this information? How should we react? Well, in the first place, we should continue to strive for equal opportunities for all persons. That may include big things like tightening legislation designed to insure equity, but it also includes small steps like offering scholarship opportunities in club sports for those who cannot afford the fees, making efforts to insure equal quality of uniforms, facilities, and coaching for girls and boys teams, and making efforts to create sustained opportunities for children to pursue interests in a variety of sports. Whatever is necessary, I certainly hope that one day the numbers of male and female athletes at the Olympics, on college teams, and on high schools teams are equal. I hope that when I see team pictures from a variety of sports, I see a rainbow of colors. I hope that discrimination on the basis of gender, race, sexual orientation, and religion is vanquished from sport and from society. We’ve made great strides since the passage of Title IX, but we still have a long way to go.