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The Road to the World Cup Began With Title IX

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Every year in the small California town where I grew up, the men who ran the Lompoc Little League would put on a “Powderpuff” game where the mothers of the boys would take the field. The idea was for everyone to have a chuckle watching the women “play like girls” as they floundered around on the field.

My mother, who was a star in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League in the 1940s, would put on a display of hitting, throwing and fielding that left the men in the stands staring dumbfounded, realizing that she was better at the game than they could ever hope to be.

When I entered high school in the 1970s, a political development took place that changed the nature of women’s athletics that resonates to this day. The federal government intervened to force our schools and universities to provide equal opportunity for female athletes in a way that would have been unfathomable for my mother’s generation.

Congress passed a civil rights law called Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibited discrimination against girls and women in federally funded educational institutions. The law applied to both public and private institutions that receive federal funds, and stipulated that women and men be provided equal opportunities to all educational resources—including athletics.

Indiana Senator Birch Bayh and Hawaii Representative Patsy Mink sponsored the law. Bayh, speaking on the Senate floor, stated that the era of stereotyping women as “pretty things,” who were unable to compete at the highest levels of education, business and athletics was over. Mink played basketball in high school for Maui High but was limited to half-court games due to the stereotypes Bayh spoke of.

Since 1972, women’s participation in sports has skyrocketed. According to a recent survey by the National Federation of High School Associations, fewer than 300,000 females participated in high school sports before 1972. From 2017 to 2018, according to the association, 3.4 million girls engaged in high school athletics.

The path of Title IX since 1972 has not been smooth. Politicians and colleges have fought against what they argued were overly restrictive interpretations of “proportionality”—the proviso that if half of a university’s students are female then half of the student-athletes must be female. And attempts were made to exclude revenue-producing sports—mostly male—from Title IX’s purview.

When the Supreme Court narrowed the scope of Title IX in the 1984 decision Grove City College v. Bell, women’s sports programs were left without legal protection because so few received direct federal funding. It took the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1988—passed over President Ronald Reagan’s veto—to clarify that if any part of a college or institution accepts federal financial assistance, Title IX covers the whole college.

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Thanks !

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