Sport has played a transcendent role in society for centuries. Only within the past 40 years in this country, however, have females had substantive access to sport, thanks to the ground-breaking legislation known as Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on sex in education programs that receive federal dollars.
“Female athletes report better health, body image, popularity and overall higher quality of life, compared to those who don’t play sports.”
Title IX’s implementation has led to notable advances in sport participation, employment, education and health for women and girls. On the 41st anniversary of Title IX, we reflect on this progress, and find tangible evidence of its impact. Over 3 million girls now participate in high school sport, and almost 200,000 participate at the intercollegiate level today. (Gains in female participation, it should be noted, have not come at the expense of opportunities for boys and men as there has also been significant growth in sport participation for males.)
Victory off the field
Increases in women’s sport involvement provide benefits in other realms of life, including employment (being a high school athlete is associated with 14 percent higher wages for women), stronger academic performance (girls who play sports are more likely to graduate from high school and have higher grades than non-athletes), positive health benefits (women who played sports have a seven percent lower risk of obesity as they age) and improved mental and social health (female athletes report better health, body image, popularity and overall higher quality of life, compared to those who don’t play sports). Indeed, without Title IX, we would not be celebrating American female sport heroes such as Abby Wambach, Brittany Griner or Missy Franklin.
Gender equity in sport remains a goal rather than a reality. Females are still not provided comparable athletic participation opportunities, resources and recognition as males.
Don’t stop now
As we acknowledge and celebrate these achievements and the increased access to sport for females over the past 40 years, we must also consider that substantial work still needs to be done. Gender equity in sport remains a goal rather than a reality. Females are still not provided comparable athletic participation opportunities, resources and recognition as males. We have still not achieved equity in related areas including coaching, media representation and administration and leadership. Equity is still a long way off for women in minority populations – African Americans, Native Americans and Hispanics in particular. With budget constraints and a growing movement toward ‘pay-to-play’, new barriers to access may limit participation opportunities for girls and women.
Commit to change
To go the whole nine yards on Title IX, addressing the existing gaps will require a commitment from athletes, parents, coaches, educators, policy makers and researchers. By working together we can fully raise awareness of the issues and move the needle toward equity. Professional networks informed with evidence-based research to advance change are a good starting point. Overall greater education and attention to compliance is needed for Title IX’s full impact to be realized.
By: Kathy Babiak, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, School of Kinesiology, University of Michigan; Co-Director, Sport, Health and Activity, Research and Policy (SHARP) Center for Women and Girls, a University of Michigan and Women’s Sports Foundation collaboration