Before 1972, female athletes practically didn’t exist beyond high school. Not only were women unable to participate in college sports because of their gender, there simply weren’t teams and programs in place for them to sign up for. But that all changed with Title IX.
The Title IX legislation was a portion of the Education Amendments of 1972, which stated in part that: “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 initial Title IX draft prepared in 1970, mentioned little of women’s athletics and its focus was instead on the hiring and employment practices of federally financed institutions. After two years of legislation, Title IX became law on July 23, 1972. However, it wasn’t until later – even 1988 – that it was ever fully carried out as the law had to be restored after essentially being ignored by college institutions for years.
This ‘restoration’ of sorts required every educational institutions’ programs receiving federal assistance to comply with Title IX requirements. Among other mandates, Title IX required universities receiving federal funding of any kind to perform self-evaluations of their equal opportunity standards regarding sex, and to provide written assurance of this to the Department of Education. Another portion of the law ensured that the selection of sports and levels of competition should accommodate the interests and abilities of members of both sexes. And a further interpretation introduced in 1979, stated that institutions had to meet one of three specific requirements to be in compliance with Title IX.
Those three “prongs,” were 1) To provide equal athletic opportunity to men and women proportionate to student enrollment; 2) Expand athletic opportunities for the interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex (most often females) and 3) Accommodate interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex, even where there are proportionately fewer females than males participating in sports.
Before Title IX, girls rarely considered college, let alone college athletics. But because of this legislation, which was considered groundbreaking at the time, women are now afforded opportunities they’d never dreamed of having before.
U.S. Olympic swimmer Dana Vollmer is one of those lucky recipients, and considers herself especially grateful for Title IX. This is because Vollmer already faced some weighty obstacles with a heart condition she was diagnosed with in high school that was so serious it required having a defibrillator by her side at all times – even while in the pool.
But because of the opportunity given to her by both the University of Florida and the University of Berkeley, California, as required by Title IX, she won Olympic gold this week in the 100-meter butterfly, and even set a new world record with her time of 59.88 seconds.
In a recent interview with ESPN concerning the benefits of Title IX, Vollmer expressed her gratitude for being one of the first generations to have the right to compete in college-level athletics.
“Talking with my mom about not even having athletic teams available to her made me realize how privileged I am in getting to have those,” she said. “Looking at a younger generation, they may not even realize this wasn’t always available – it isn’t how it’s always been.”
Vollmer is just one of many outstanding female athletes who have benefited from Title IX – a piece of history that not only gave her the opportunity to continue her athletic career, but also to represent the U.S. at this year’s Olympics and bring home gold. Now that’s a law worth celebrating.
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