Tomorrow marks the 40th anniversary of the passage of Title IX, and
former Vermont governor and commentator Madeleine Kunin is reflecting on
how it came about, and the far reaching changes that came with it.
Happy Birthday Title IX! You will be 40 years old on June 23. Blow out
the candles for the law that threw open the doors in gymnasiums and
changed the playing fields in every high school, college and university
in America to include women and girls.
I can attest from
personal experience that before Title IX became law in 1972, girls’
opportunities to participate in sports were rare. Today, when I ask a
classroom of female students, "How many of you played sports in high
school or college?" almost every hand goes up. Thanks to title IX,
millions of women ad girls can enjoy sports the same way that boys do,
learning good sportsmanship, team work, and how to win and lose.
did this law come about? The answer is by accident. Bernice Sandler,
known as the godmother of Title IX told me that the intent was to get
rid of quotas, which limited the number of women admitted to colleges
and universities. Nobody knew at the time, what affect the law would
have on women’s participation in sports.
Women’s groups were
eager to lobby for the bill’s passage, but Sandler recalled that
Democratic Congresswoman Edith Green advised them not to. "Don’t do any
lobbying," she said "because people will ask questions and then they
will find out what the bill will really do."
directors soon found out what the new law did do. In no time, equal
athletic facilities had to be provided for women, additional tennis
courts, coaches and all kinds of equipment. With a stroke of a pen, the
world of high school and college sports had vastly expanded.
Expenditures for sports now had to be proportionate to women and men’s
Not everyone was pleased. Football coaches took
particular umbrage. They believed that the cost of women’s sports
drained money away from football. They pleaded for lenience.
In some cases, they succeeded, because of lax enforcement.
a perfect law. But by and large it worked. We often wonder whether laws
can change the culture, or do we have to wait for the culture to change
before we enact a new law?
Before Title IX the assumption was
that girls weren’t as interested in sports as boys were. In fact, some
thought it might not even be good for them to get out on the field; they
might get hurt.
Now, whenever I see a girls team play any
sport, basketball, tennis, soccer – you name it – and watch their
friends and parents wildly cheering them on, I know that it was a law –
Title IX – that made this thrilling scene possible.