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Learning Center Experience
By Jane McElligott, JD, MSCJ, Professor, Legal Studies Faculty Member
Olympic flame blazes in Sochi, lighting up ice rinks and ski runs full of athletes
from different nationalities, races, cultures, and genders, it is a perfect
opportunity to reflect upon key legislation that has paved a path toward
equality in sport and beyond. In this country, Title IX of the Education
Amendments of 1972 stands at the forefront of legislation that has been instrumental
in effecting gender equity on the playing field. What better way to celebrate
Women’s History Month than to trace the path of gender equality in athletics,
fueled by Title IX, from the ancient Olympics to Sochi. While females at the
ancient Olympics were hurled off cliffs simply for being spectators, females of
today participate as athletes at a level that grows incrementally with each
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits
discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs receiving federal funding. Although Title
IX does not explicitly mention athletics, this is where the law has had the strongest
impact, gradually leveling out the playing field by mandating equal opportunity,
funding, and scholarships in sports for girls and women. “Title IX babies,”
girls born after the passage of Title IX who have benefited from this landmark
legislation, have made headlines as champions on fields, courts, tracks, ice
rinks, and ski runs. Beyond the headlines, Title IX babies, who have benefited
by participating in sports on an equal footing, have gained self-confidence, a
competitive spirit, and a strong appreciation for teamwork and esprit de corps—attributes
vigorously sought after in the business world.
Title IX has been unfairly disparaged as the cause of
colleges eliminating certain men’s sports teams, allegedly cut to provide
proportionate opportunities and funding to women in sports. The intent of Title IX was to expand
opportunities for women, not to diminish opportunities for men. The
proportionality rule of Title IX requires colleges to provide proportionate
funding to men and women in sports according to their representation in the
student body. For example, if 50% of the student body is female, then 50% of
the funding for sports should go to female athletes. Some colleges, contrary to
the spirit of fairness inherent in Title IX, have cut certain
nonrevenue-producing men’s sports, such as swimming and wrestling, as a way to
comply with the proportionality requirement without having to touch their
overfunded football teams. Such decisions to cut less popular men’s sports are
unsound policy decisions that are not in any way encouraged by Title IX. Laws
that forge such positive headway toward gender equity are always subject to unfounded
criticism by those who do not value equality in sports.
The positive changes brought about by Title IX afforded me
the benefit of participating in sports on parity with men, but looking back a
generation, my mother, now 94 years old, was denied this equal opportunity. My
mother played on her high school basketball team as a “side center,” a position
in which she passed the ball down the court, but was not allowed to run and
dribble more than two times since such activity was considered “unladylike.”
This early form of the game, in which players were restricted to limited zones
of play, seems more similar to a game of “hot potato” than basketball. My
mother earned the name “Bunny Byrne” for her ability to jump, even though she
is only 4’11”; imagine if Bunny had been allowed to run and dribble down the
court and score a basket and realize her full potential in sports. Title IX
ensures that all current and future Bunny Byrnes will always have the
opportunity to play to their utmost potential, with the full support of the law
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