Saturday, December 13, 2014

Title IX at Year 40

At the after school program I work at in Westchester, six year old Ana Laura displays no fear in running into the corners against boys twice her size in the make shift game of indoor hockey that we play with ping pong paddles and a rubber supermarket ball. "She doesn't get intimidated," says 11 year old Stephen Mains, but had she grown up in an age minus Title IX, it's not just her athletic acumen that would be in jeopardy of never reaching full development.
In a speech at Dartmouth recently, U.S. Gold Medal Soccer player Julie Foudy made an equitable comparison to Anna's corners and extrapolated the impact outside the lines. "Learning how to give a speech before hundreds of thousands of people," she says, "it's ok, I can do this, because I've already done it on the field."
A little closer to the air the rest of us breathe, the leadership skills Foudy developed over a sport's life helped create a culture of hard work, team spirit and goal setting on the National Team. As a result, it's safe to say, no athlete in their own personal learning ever needs to leave such things on the field.
Otherwise, at this point, Ana Laura is mostly unencumbered by many of the trivialities of her peers and always has a smile on her face. While probably just part of her make up, it certainly doesn't hurt that she loves to get out there and give it everything she's got.
A characteristic her two older brothers have always encouraged. But for girls less lucky, the possibility that this inclination would remain uncovered was far greater in 1973 when only 300,000 girls participated in high school sports. Now reaching 3.1 million, economist Betsy Stevenson of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania has done a state by state study to put actual numbers on what that little smile and big tenacity means.
Separating sports from a number of other factors, she found participation led to a 20% increase in women's education and a 40% rise in employment for women aged 25-34.
Apparently having a very good sense of how significant Title IX would be, Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana gave the proposal its proper due when it was included as part of the 1972 Education Reform Bill.
With great insight, he kept it all relatively quiet. Floating the 36 word clause as a hiring and employment measure, he made sure no one lobbied for it. "If we lobby, people will ask questions about the bill, and they will find out what it would really do," Bayh revealed in the documentary,Sporting Chance.
Thus sneaking its way to Nixon's desk, the impact didn't become clear until the government published rules that gave colleges three years to comply with the gender equality provision of the overall act.
Of course, the establishment of law didn't necessarily create change, but luckily there were already women athletes exercising leadership that outpaced the old order. At Yale, for instance, the women's rowing team did not have showers like the men. They'd get on the bus overheated from practice, and without a shower to refresh, a cold too often awaited them.
They knew only a naked protest would do, according to Ginny Gilder of the 1976 team. Descending on an administrator's office, she told NPR, "We all turned around, took off our clothes and just stood there."
The rowing team got its showers, and the message went out loud and clear to other schools.
Nonetheless, the success of Title IX has made many unaware of even its existence and leaves too many young people thinking that women's sports are a given. Jackie Joyner-Kersee thinks that's a dangerous form of ignorance, and told Atlantic Magazine, it's up to young women to take the baton so Title IX is not repealed or amended.
Ana Laura - for one - has what it takes, but she'll definitely need others to take her lead while she's busy here showing the boys.