University of Minnesota
March 19, 2012
Mary Jo Kane, professor in sport sociology and director of the U’s Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport.
Photo: Patrick O'Leary
The landmark legislation has drastically changed girls' and women's sports.
By Rick Moore
It’s the day before the Minnesota State Girls Basketball Tournament is set to tip off, and a local daily newspaper has a full-page spread on the back of the sports section announcing the girls’ All-Metro team.
Pictured are five lithe and lean players, four seniors and a junior. Hands on hips, their poses and expressions embody a certain swagger, if not cockiness. And why not? Their future includes college scholarships, more fame, perhaps even a shot at playing basketball professionally.
Forty years ago, that resume could scarcely be considered a fantasy. But on June 30, 1972, an amendment to the Civil Rights Act declared that institutions receiving federal funding cannot discriminate on the basis of gender in providing any educational program or activity. The legislation known simply as “Title IX” was born.
“It has fundamentally and forever changed the landscape of women’s sports,” says Mary Jo Kane, director of the U’s Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport and a leading authority on the landmark legislation. “Because of that, it should be considered one of the most successful pieces of civil rights legislation this country has ever known.”
Toward critical mass
As the 40th anniversary of Title IX approaches, with basketball and hockey tournament games—for both women and men, girls and boys—filling up the airwaves, Kane took a moment to reflect on the long road women have traveled toward equality in athletics.
“It has always been the case that we’ve had female athletes,” Kane says, listing pre–Title IX icons like Babe Didrikson Zaharias and Billie Jean King. “But what we have never had—and this is a direct result of Title IX—is a critical mass of females who are engaged in all sorts of sports and physical activities up and down the food chain.”
You needn’t search far and wide to find evidence of that. Mega volleyball gyms host weekend tournaments for hundreds of girls at a time, and suburban soccer and softball fields sport volumes of girls that rival their brothers in comparable sports.
“For the first time ever, females grow up with a sense of entitlement to sports,” says Kane. “And parents, just as importantly, grow up with that sense of entitlement for their daughters.
Minnesota coach Pam Borton notes that players today are noticeably "bigger, stronger, faster" than they were even four or five years ago. Photo: courtesy U Athletics
Pam Borton, the head coach of the Gopher women’s basketball team, began playing sports after Title IX had been established. She played basketball at a smaller college in Ohio, minus all the trappings and spoils of a Division I program, and is amazed at how the opportunities for women have blossomed.
“I think the athletes of today take things for granted. I don’t think they can appreciate how hard people worked to get what they have,” Borton says. “I just don’t think they ever fathom or understand [how far] it has come.”
Challenges and successes in gender equity
It’s a given that female athletes have made quantum gains in four decades, both in terms of quality and equality. Witness Lindsay Whalen (whom Borton coached) and Company routinely filling up the Barn during their run to the Final Four in 2004. Or, for that matter, Lindsay Whalen and Company filling up Target Center during the Minnesota Lynx’s run to the WNBA title this past summer.
Despite those gains, public opinion on Title IX still occasionally suffers from the notion that it somehow contributes to the demise of non-revenue men’s sports.
“When schools, because of the arms race, are pressured financially and athletics directors make decisions to drop sports—particularly men’s sports—Title IX continues to get blamed for that,” Kane notes. “Even though… there is nothing in either the letter of the law or the spirit of the law that says in order to increase opportunities for women you have to decrease opportunities for men.”
As well, there is an interesting equity anomaly when it comes to the coaching fraternity in women’s sports. Prior to Title IX, Kane says about 90 percent of the head coaches in women’s sports were women. That number has shrunk to about 43 percent today.
“A little known fact about Title IX is that it has created a dual opportunity for men, who can go into women’s and men’s sports, but it has not had a parallel increase for women,” she says. “Quite ironically, with respect to employment opportunities, it has benefitted men far more than it has benefitted women.”
Meanwhile, Borton considers herself lucky to be in her position, at a university that pays more than lip service to female athletes.
“I’m very fortunate that I’m at a place that is a big proponent of gender equity,” she says. “You still have your three major (revenue) sports, but I feel like across the board, whether it’s tennis or track, everyone is treated equally, and I feel very privileged that I’m at an institution that really respects that—the gender equity part.”
There’s another reason for Borton to smile. Two of those all-metro players—the ones with the stats and the swagger and the potential unleashed by Title IX—are coming to the University of Minnesota.