The year 1972 was memorable for many things, good and bad. HBO was launched, the motion pictures The Godfather and Dirty Harry were released, the last combat troops were leaving Vietnam, Arab gunmen massacred 11 Israeli athletes at the Olympic Games, and the Watergate break-in occurred.
It was also the year that (in a show of bipartisan support that would be unthinkable today) President Richard Nixon signed the Education Amendments to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
How, you might ask, does that rank with other historical events of that year when the bill’s passage barely warranted a paragraph in most newspapers? Well, there are 37 words buried inside that massive education bill, 37 words, known as Title IX, which would have a more dramatic impact than most people at the time realized.
Title IX reads: “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.”
The intent of Title IX was to provide equal access to educational opportunities for girls and women, including safe and accessible learning environments, and to ensure that course offerings and career counseling were not limited by gender, and it’s pretty much accomplished that. Boys were now able to take home economics, and girls could enroll in shop. Actually, it was more about opening access for women to mathematics and science courses at the university level.
It’s most visible effect, however, has been in athletics, an area that isn’t mentioned anywhere in the bill. Nonetheless, “Title IX” and “sports equity” have become synonymous. Sports may not have been in the forefront of the minds of those who crafted Title IX, but it’s impossible to overstate its impact on women’s athletics and on the lives and careers of women who participate in athletics.
You often hear sports used as a metaphor for life. Why? Because there is a lot a person learns from being involved in athletics that is applicable to their careers.
Participating in sports teaches a person the value of teamwork, of perseverance, of a strong work ethic, of self-discipline and that feedback doesn’t mean failure.
Title IX and women’s athletics have done more for women and their careers than anyone could have imagined. It’s no coincidence that a whopping 80 percent of female CEOs played high school or college sports.
I think the Wharton School’s Betsy Stevenson summed it well when she said, “It’s not just that the people who are going to do well in life play sports, but that sports help people do better in life.”
Has Title IX achieved its goal? Probably to a greater degree than anyone imagined.
A few factoids from the National Federation of State High School Associations, NCAA, National Center for Education Statistics, Association of American Medical Colleges and the American Bar Association follow comparing participation from 1971-72 to 2010-11 respectively:
Boys in high school varsity sports, 3,666,917; 4,494,406. Girls in high school varsity sports, 294,015; 3,173,549. Men in college sports, 170,384; 252,946. Women in college sports, 29,977; 191,131. Bachelor’s degrees awarded to men, 500,590; 685,382. Bachelor’s degrees awarded to women, 386,683; 915,986. Men entering medical school, 10,435; 10,193. Women entering medical school, 1,635; 9,037. Men in law school, 85,554; 76,737. Women in law school, 8,914; 68,502.
All attributed to Title IX? Maybe not, but it’s hard to argue that Title IX didn’t have a significant impact on those numbers.
As an aside, isn’t’ the following interesting?
First, two bastions of liberalism, the New York Times and Harvard University opposed the Education Amendments of 1972.
Opposed it, I say.
The Times ran an editorial stating that ending quotas that limited female college admissions was “educationally unsound.”
Harvard argued that accepting more women might “underutilize its science classes” and “hurt alumni giving.”
Second, not only did a Republican president sign the law, but it was Nixon’s Health, Education and Welfare secretary, Caspar Weinberger, who alone decided that the law would apply to athletics stating, “it wasn’t fair that schools spend thousands on boys’ sports and almost nothing on girls’.”
Republicans, I say.
Oh well, it was the ‘70’s, a rather topsy-turvy decade.
Nonetheless, the Education Amendments to the Civil Rights Act is one of the most significant pieces of legislation ever passed — and it passed because of a bipartisan effort.
There’s a lesson to be learned there.
Paul A. Grasso Jr., president & CEO, The Development Corporation, 190 Banker Road, Suite 500, Plattsburgh.