Next week will mark the 40th anniversary of Richard Nixon signing Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, more popularly known simply as Title IX. This landmark piece of legislation changed the face of American education across the genders with 37 words: 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 Federal financial assistance. This act, which is most closely associated with girls’ participation in athletics, paved the way for a new era in female sports that will culminate once again this summer in the 2012 Olympic Games in London, England. For girls of today, the chance to participate in sports as equals is a given that has led to many strong advances in gender politics and women’s roles in education and beyond. However, as many experts point out, there’s still a long way to go. The Impact of Sports For both boys and girls, the chance to participate in a school-sponsored sporting activity is often a chance to let go of stress, express who they really are, and gain self-esteem. Students who struggle academically because of learning disabilities, for example, often find that they are equals on the sporting field. The confidence that students of both genders can gain from athletic participation is immeasurable. However, there are additional benefits as well. In an era that is plagued by an obesity crisis, the opportunity for youth to become involved in physical activity as a way of life is important for lifelong wellness. As academic demands strengthen, the importance of other aspects of one’s life and character including healthy living should not be ignored. Sports help to cover that gap for many students who may not have support at home. But for girls especially, the long-term impact of participation in sports goes much farther. A 2007 study in the Youth and Society Journal stated that participation in sports leads to a 41% higher chance of girls graduating college in six years, this is an important number given the recent problems with the college dropout rate. In addition, participation in the sporting world seems to help women reach higher levels of personal success in the male-dominated business world. Fully 80% of surveyed women holding executive-level jobs reported participation in sports during their K-12 years. Finally, the chance of using illegal drugs or becoming pregnant in the teen years is also drastically reduced among girls participating in sports. Work Yet to Be Done This is not to say that the past 40 years have been nothing but roses. In fact, the resistance of many schools to accurately report the number of participating female athletes or to allow for the true 50/50 participation that is Title IX’s goal still remains elusive. In many cases, schools blame Title IX for the loss of what they call “minor” boys’ sports and claim that the imbalance created by football will never allow for true parity. The numbers of girls participating in sports, too, could still be improved. While no one can argue with the success of Title IX in terms of brining girls onto the field and court, there is still a ways to go. In the 1971/72 school year, before the implementation of Title IX, 294,015 girls played school sports. In 2010/11, that number had increased tenfold to 3.2 million girls. However, this number is still below the number of boys from 1971/72 (3.5 million) and 2010/11 (4.5 million). In addition, equal funding, when achieved, is still not the same as equal treatment. In many cases, so-called “prime time” scheduling slots which include weekends and weekend nights are still reserved for boys’ sports. Girls’ sports tend to remain scheduled during the week which leads to poor attendance. In addition, the facilities relegated for girls’ sports, by and large, remain subpar as compared to those offered to boys. The Next 40 Years As Title IX enters its next 40 years of life, the progress that we have made cannot be denied. Girls are participating in sports at numbers that were never dreamed of in the 1970s. However, that is not to say that our work is done. As educators, we need to continue to push for equal treatment of female athletics as a way to improve the outlook for girls over the long run and achieve true equality in terms of both funding and prestige. With the Olympics just around the corner, getting girls psyched to see the top female athletes in the world compete should be motivation enough to continue to work for change.
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