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This is my daughter and her best friend, in front of the Women’s Rights Memorial in Seneca Falls, after they had completed a basketball game.

In 1972, 37 words were added to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Title IX says:  “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 regulations went into effect in 1975; any public school receiving federal money was to be in complete compliance with the provisions of Title IX by 1978. A quarter of a century later, it’s safe to say that a large number of programs across the country–at both the high school and college levels–are not in compliance.

A series of court rulings have established a three-prong test for determining whether girls are receiving equal participation opportunities in relation to boys. The test asks: 1) Are the numbers of opportunities to participate in interscholastic (or other school-sponsored) athletics proportionate to the enrollment of each gender at the school? 2) If one sex is underrepresented in athletics, can the institution prove that it has a history, and a continuing practice, of program expansion that reflects the interests of the students? 3) If one sex is underrepresented, and the school cannot demonstrate prong number two (above) can it show that the students’ interests and abilities are being accommodated by the present system? To be in compliance, a school must be able to answer “yes” to one of these three questions.

In 2002, an exhaustive review was conducted of Title IX by members of a panel drawn from all sectors of athletics. Their conclusion? The law was fine the way it is. Leave it alone. Three weeks ago, in a stealth move that this regime is becoming notorious for, TItle IX was quietly strangled, gutted, and left to die.

Did I mention that I’m pissed off?

In 1997, I started writing professionally about Title IX. There were interviews that stuck in my head; stories of boys playing on state-of-the-art ball fields while girls risked injury on fields that were rock-strewn. One of the most eloquent descriptions of discrimination was given to me by a mother in Kentucky, who described the differences between her son’s baseball program and her daughter’s softball program;

“I always had to go to Chrissi’s school at 2:30 to pick her and other players up and transport them to their practice field,” Egan says. “Baseball players just stayed at school since their fields were on campus. The baseball team had an indoor batting cage. Softball didn’t have a batting cage at all. Baseball had nice dugouts. Softball players just sat in the cold drizzle getting soaked. Baseball had school manpower and equipment to maintain their field. Softball parents brought their own mowers and the coach used her own vehicle to drag the field. Baseball had large sets of bleachers. One softball parent got a set of used aluminum bleachers donated. Baseball had an electronic scoreboard. Softball had a scorekeeper you could ask the score. Baseball had faculty and students stay after school to watch them play. Half of the school didn’t even know the high school had a softball team and the other half had no idea where the field was located. Baseball had direct access to locker rooms. Softball was two miles away.”

Why does it matter that girls play sports? Let’s just talk about the health benefits, courtesy of this study.

*    Breast Cancer Risk: One to three hours of exercise a week over a woman’s reproductive lifetime (the teens to about age 40) may bring a 20-30% reduction in the risk of breast cancer, and four or more hours of exercise a week can reduce the risk almost 60% (Bernstein et al, 1994).

*    Smoking: Female athletes on one or two school or community sports teams were significantly less likely to smoke regularly than female non-athletes. Girls on three or more teams were even less likely to smoke regularly (Melnick et al, 2001).

*    Illicit Drug Use: Two nationwide studies found that female school or community athletes were significantly less likely to use marijuana, cocaine or most other illicit drugs, although they were no less likely to use crack or inhalants. This protective effect of sports was especially true for white girls (Miller et al, 2000; Pate et al, 2000).

*    Sexual Risk: Female athletes are less likely to be sexually active, in part because they tend to be more

concerned about getting pregnant than female non-athletes (Dodge & Jaccard, 2002).

*    Depression: Women and girls who participate in regular exercise suffer lower rates of depression (Nicoloff and Schwenk, 1995; Page and Tucker, 1994).

*    Suicide: Female high school athletes, especially those participating on three or more teams, have lower odds

of considering or planning a suicide attempt (Sabo et al, 2004).

*    Educational Gains: The positive educational impacts of school sports were just as strong for girls as for boys including self-concept, educational aspirations in the senior year, school attendance, math and science enrollment, time spent on homework, and taking honors courses (Marsh, 1993).

The physical and mental health benefits for girls participating in sports have been exhaustively documented. Any check of NCAA graduation rates will show that female athletes consistently graduate at higher rates than their male counterparts, and in many instances, at higher rates than other female undergraduates. Sports allow girls to develop the self-confidence in their own bodies to make decisions about sexuality that other girls, those who may not have self-confidence, are not able to make. And, female athletes who decide they are ready for sex are more likely to use contraception.

What difference does it make to a young woman to think of her body as a strong, fast, skilled instrument that can do things other than attract attention for its physical beauty? What would a world look like in which young women were praised for their minds, their athletic accomplishments, their creativity, their talents, their spirits, rather than what they looked like?

Do you want to do something to save Title IX? The Women’s Sports Foundation has got all the information.

Want to know, what as a parent you can do to guarantee your daughter’s rights to play sports? Check this out: Herb Dempsey.

Want to know more about Title IX, its history, how one goes about complying with it? Feel free to write to me at lorraine_berry at yahoo. I am happy to send you a reading list.

Yes. I know I cross-posted this over at Kos, but I’ll be goddamned if this administration is going to fuck with either of my girls’ rights to play sports.

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