10 Things About Title IX: The Role Sports Play in the Fight for Gender Equality

Note: I don’t usually write about politics, at least not directly. However, this is an example that could be relevant and useful for worldbuilding or plotting in stories. If you say rude or mean things in the comments, I will either ignore or delete them. 

The US Women’s National Team just earned a fourth star for their jerseys by winning the 2019 World Cup. Give me a moment.

USA! USA! USA! USA!

Okay, I’m good now. Mostly.

The USWNT has done a lot to bring attention to the gender discrimination inherent in their pay structures compared to the USMNT (US Men’s National Team). While some people may roll their eyes at this, the truth of the matter is that you can’t claim that the women don’t bring in as much money. The USWNT sells more merchandise than their male counterparts, they sell more tickets, they get better viewing ratings for televised events, and they travel for more paid engagements. Because the USMNT has been in a performance slump for the last few years (for a number of reasons I’m choosing not to elaborate upon because I have neither the time nor the word count for it) while the women have continued to show improvement while also being the best-ranked team in the world and bringing in rapidly increasing revenue to boot, it’s well past time that they get to ask why they aren’t getting paid as much as the Men’s Team.

The struggle for equality in sports is not new. Title IX is not new. In fact, Title IX does not even exclusively relate to athletics. But sports are the most visible way to see whether an institution is striving for equality or whether they’re making excuses.

I should point out that the USWNT is not governed by Title IX because they are not affiliated with a specific educational institution. They are just the reason I began thinking of this post (and I kinda wanted to brag on them a bit).

So, for those unfamiliar with the law, here are 10 things you might not know about Title IX.

  1. Title IX was signed into law in June of 1972 by then-President Richard Nixon. It 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 educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Athletics are ruled an “educational program or activity”.
  2. It took less than two years after signing Title IX into law before a bill demanding its repeal was filed in Congress. When it failed, a bill demanding that certain sports (cough cough FOOTBALL cough cough) be excluded from the Title IX athlete, equipment, and services mandates. It also failed.
  3. Though the application, scope, regulations, and enforcement of Title IX has been debated time and again in Congress (and as recently as 2011), over 80% of voters support it. That is true across political parties, genders, and socioeconomic brackets.
  4. In 1996 Brown University (they got taken to court over it, but they certainly weren’t the only school doing it) argued that they were compliant with Title IX even though they offered significantly less athletic opportunities for females because “girls aren’t as interested in sports as boys.” The courts ruled that an institution cannot use gender stereotypes to opt-out of Title IX compliance.
  5. Not only is it a sad excuse for not complying with the law, but the stereotype of girls simply not wanting to play sports has been proven wrong. Since 1972 when Title IX was signed, female participation in school sports has increased over 900%. Girls want to play. All they need is the opportunity.
  6. Opponents of Title IX have long argued that it is unfair to male athletes because it requires schools to decrease the number of men’s sports to be equal with those of women’s sports. This is wholly untrue. The requirement is that each institution much offer equal opportunities (and, in practice, if a school can show that it is expanding female opportunities and making the effort, even if the numbers aren’t exactly even, they are deemed in compliance). However, individual schools have cut some men’s sports to save money while adding women’s sports and when met with resistance from alumni have perennially blamed Title IX. The truth is that it’s a matter of revenue versus expenditure. The school doesn’t want to lose revenue by adding more expenditures, so they decide to make cuts. If anyone ever argues that sports aren’t a business, point them to the history of the opposition of Title IX. It’s all about the money.
  7. In 2011 it was ruled that Title IX requires allegations of sexual harassment and sexual violence to be handled according to University policy for all students, including athletes. An institution can’t just “let the team handle it”.
  8. Title IX applies to any and all educational institutions that receive any federal funding. There is no percentage requirement. The funding does not have to be given toward all sports. If the institution receives federal funds, it is subject to Title IX. However, the level of male vs female participation opportunities does not have to be 1:1. It is based on the overall student population percentages by gender. It is also not solely applied to the betterment of female athletic opportunities. The language of the full clarifications and rulings say the “underrepresented gender”. So if a male feels that he is being discriminated against based on a lack of compliance with Title IX, he can file suit too.
  9. “Athletic opportunities” also apply to more than just spots on a roster. The treatment, benefits, financial aid, quality of equipment, and access to facilities, coaches, trainers, and staff of all athletes are covered.
  10. As you can see by the language of the original law, Title IX applies to any educational opportunity or activity. That means that while Title IX is most visible to the public via athletic representation, it also applies to the admittance of females (or the underrepresented gender) to academic programs too. And as of 1992, if a student–athlete or not–files suit based on a Title IX violation, they can be awarded punitive damages, not just an injunction.

If any program was ever deemed in blatant and repeated violation of Title IX, they can have all federal funding for the institution revoked. To my knowledge, that’s never actually happened. The Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, who governs the application of Title IX, usually gives the school a list of things to complete in a given time frame instead. It is simply the threat of being able to withhold funds that the OCR counts on.

Since the 1970s, Title IX has been used to attempt to shine a light on gender discrimination. While the biggest debates over its application involve its relation to sports, Title IX is primarily about gender equality in education.

As writers who create worlds complete with politics, biases, and usually some thematic fight for justice, we can use Title IX’s forty-seven year (as of 2019) history as an example of how issues are often interwoven into other parts of society. If there is an argument over an issue at the highest level of the government in the political entity you create, it will show itself in other places and other ways through every tier of said society. Sometimes the cry for justice doesn’t come from a battlefield or a senate floor. Sometimes it comes from a soccer field, a basketball court, or a high school classroom.

And sometimes even after the cry is heard, you find yourself still fighting the same fight nearly fifty years later. Because equal means equal, not “a smaller discrepancy than before”.

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