Alex Morgan, Lindsey Horan, Megan Rapinoe. Courtesy of Flickr
The U.S. Women's Soccer Team, new World Cup champions, deserve every bit of praise and glory bestowed upon them by their fans and the media. But somewhere in the midst of the speechifying, it would be great to hear one of them say, "I want to thank the U.S. Congress, without which this victory would not have been
That's the 1972 Congress I'm talking about, the one that voted Title IX into existence. We can thank that piece of legislation for the dominance of U.S. women athletes on the world stage.
Title IX changed everything for women's athletic programs in our schools, though not a word of it refers to sports. 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 education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."
The crafters of Title IX knew how revolutionary those 36 words were, and they were crafty enough to keep that to themselves until it worked its way through Congress and was signed into law by President Nixon. Most legislators thought Title IX had something to do with equal pay at universities, if they thought about it at all.
But Title IX changed the playing field, literally. It meant women's sports were supposed to receive equal funding to men's sports. Women and girls had the same right to participate in school sports as men and boys, in colleges and K-12 schools.
Take Jackie Joyner-Kersee, the three time gold medalist in Olympic track and field. As a young girl, she was a cheerleader, because that's what girls did if they wanted to be part of a school sports program. Thanks to Title IX, she became a member of her high school track team, and the rest is herstory. Joyner-Kersee was one of countless women who found their athletic calling — or simply had a chance to participate in sports at the schools they attended — because of Title IX.
It's a wonderful story, but as often happens when a group of people are granted rights they hadn't previously enjoyed, it wasn't as simple as that. The implementation of Title IX followed a bumpy road.
When the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) and many high school administrators realized the ramifications of Title IX, they objected, saying men's sports would be harmed if women's sports had to be funded equally. Government agencies like the Office of Civil Rights weren't as interested in enforcing Title IX as they should have been.
For a few years, a Supreme Court ruling actually invalidated the impact of Title IX on school sports. It said only programs receiving federal funding had to abide by Title IX, which left athletic programs out.
That was 1984. In 1988, Congress restored the original intent of Title IX by passing legislation specifying that it applies to all parts of a college or K-12 school receiving federal money. President "Win one for the Gipper" Ronald Reagan didn't agree. He vetoed the bill. But Congress overrode his veto. School sports were covered once again.
In 1992, the Supreme Court ruled that women could sue for damages if their Title IX rights were violated. That brought lots of lawyers into the picture, which, not surprisingly, led to increased compliance. Schools realized they could get themselves into some serious legal and financial hot water if they resisted. Title IX violations and lawsuits continue to this day, but the idea that women and girls belong on our schools' playing fields is a given.
It wasn't that long ago that soccer was little more than an afterthought in the U.S. Now our women players dominate the sport. For that, we can give credit to the athleticism and team spirit of the U.S. Women's Soccer Team. And let's also tip our caps to the law which gave them the opportunity to kick a ball around school soccer fields under the guidance and supervision of adults from the time they were young girls. Just like the boys.
Thank you, Title IX.