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. [Title IX of the Education Amendments Acts of 1972 was signed by President Nixon on June 23, 1972]
Before the month of June leaves us I want to pay tribute to an amendment that is near and dear to my heart. On June 23rd, Title IX turned 40.
As a female athlete, I am very aware of Title IX and how it has affected me. However, when I made mention of Title IX to my mother she had no clue what it was–even after I explained it to her she didn’t recall knowledge of this amendment that took place during the civil rights movement.
For those like my mom who are unaware, Title IX is the law that made discrimination between men’s and women’s educational programs illegal. While the Title IX statement does not make mention of the word “sports”, it is primarily associated with sports because its widest impact has been expanding women’s sports at both the high school and college levels, which have in turn created greater professional opportunities for women athletes.
To give you a better idea of the impact: In 1972, there were only 30,000 girls participating in high school sports. Today there are over 3 million. Sports participation has been proven to be beneficial to the development of adolescents, and it goes without saying that TItle IX has been a key agent to the progress of girls and women in our society.
Women’s tennis played, and continues to play, a vital role in the women’s equality in sports movement. The WTA is the world’s leading professional sport for women, however it did take some shattering of the glass ceiling to get it there. In 1970, nine female tennis players, Billie Jean King, Rosie Casals, Nancy Richey, Peaches Bartkowics, Kristy Pigeon, Valerie Ziegenfuss, Julie Heldman, Kerry Melville Reid and Judy Tegart, rebelled against the United States Lawn Tennis Association because of the unequal prize money paid to male and female players. These “Original 9” formed their own circuit sponsored by Virginia Slims. The first event, the Virginia Slims of Houston, is considered to be the first-ever tournament on the professional women’s circuit, which eventually became the WTA. The WTA currently has over 2,200 players from 96 nations who compete for $86 million in prize money annually.
Billie Jean King is credited as the woman who paved the way for all female athletes who were to follow. “The Battle of the Sexes” was won by King when she defeated Bobby Riggs in Houston during the year of 1973. Not only was this the most famous tennis match in history, but it helped King continue to break barriers for women in both sports and society. Here is a fantastic article about Billie Jean King’s legacy in relationship to Title IX.
Women have come a long way in sports, however the inequality of women in sports, even today, is not a far off concept. Recent news has broke that Saudi Arabia is allowing for women to compete in the London 2012 Olympics for the first time. Despite Muslim leaders repeatedly speaking out against the participation of girls and women in sports, Saudi Arabia was called out and challenged by human rights groups that had confronted the International Olympic Committee.
Progress continues to be made, though there is always more that could be done. To quote a statement made by Billie Jean King last year: “We’ve got a long way to go.”
Finally, thank you to all the women and men who fought and continue to fight for equal rights for your daughters, granddaughters and every girl in America and around the world. The impact of participating in competitive sports over the last eight years of my life has been monumental in my development as a woman, as a friend, as a professional, and as a citizen. Thank you.
Me with former teammates during my sophomore year at Hardin-Simmons–we were on a Spring Break trip competing with top ranked teams in southern California. I have many amazing memories with these ladies!