On the 50th anniversary of Title IX, Boardroom asked a number of women to reflect on how the game-changing legislation shaped their careers and what they see for the future of women in sports.
On June 23, 1972, Congress passed the landmark legislation that opened the door for millions of female athletes at schools across the country. Prior to the decision, only 1% of institutional athletic budgets supported women’s sports. Today, because of Title IX, that number is closer to 40%.
With the decree, athletic departments around the United States reallocated funds to encourage young women to step into new opportunities. The legislation laid the foundation for the expansion of women’s sports, paving the way for the proliferation of opportunities for women even beyond the college game. The NWSL, the WNBA, and Athletes Unlimited are just a few examples of professional leagues that are thriving due to the talent produced as a direct result of Title IX.
Although disparities remain in the treatment of men’s and women’s sports, on the 50th anniversary of Title IX, Boardroom caught up with a number of athletes to examine what Title IX has meant to them in their careers and what they envision for the next 50 years.
The New Law of the Land
Billie Jean King changed the game of tennis. With her rise to the top of the sport, she introduced a number of Americans to the power of women. However, she acknowledged her experience was exceptional; women were routinely denied the opportunity to play.
Inspired by her success and the critical role that sports had played in her own life, King took to Congress to testify on behalf of Title IX.
After the grueling campaign, the efforts of myriad advocates, including King, were rewarded with a law that changed the face of sports forever with its reach extending to any schools or formal institutions that receive funds from the United States Department of Education.
Title IX 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.”
Official numbers estimate an increase in participation of more than 1000% at the high school level and over 600% in the collegiate game.
Exploring the Impact
New York Liberty All-Star Sabrina Ionescu reflected on the legislation, saying, “Title IX means everything for me, and for the future generations of female athletes in paving the way for a more equal playing field.”
In addition to creating enhanced opportunities, the legislation re-allocated scholarships around the country. The Las Vegas Aces’ and Athletes Unlimited Basketball Player and Executive Committee Member Sydney Colson acknowledges this. Simply put, Colson points out, without the legislation, Texas A&M may not have had a women’s hoops team: “This law gave me the opportunity to be granted a basketball scholarship and earn my degree.”
AU lacrosse player Kayla Wood sees the importance of Title IX not only in her scholastic pursuits but also in her current opportunity playing lacrosse at a professional level. She said:
“As a result of Title IX, I was able to gain access to an array of resources including training, the best equipment, and education centers that women did not have prior to the law being passed. As a young girl, I didn’t know if I would ever have the opportunity to play at the professional level. Now, I’m achieving that with Athletes Unlimited and creating a path as well as establishing a voice for future female athletes in my sport because of the doors Title IX has opened. “
For women in sports, Title IX has not only expanded opportunities, it has redefined what is possible.
Earlier this year, Washington Mystics star and former WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne told Boardroom about the “massive” effects that Title IX had for women athletes, including how her own career has unfolded. “It enabled me from a young age to think about being a collegiate athlete and also a professional athlete,” she said. “It really paved the way for what my career would be.”
The Next 50 Years
While the immense progress in the last 50 years is undeniable, Billie Jean King noted on TODAY that there is still “so much more to be done.” The women Boardroom connected with with agreed.
When asked about what the the next 50 years may hold, Ionescu identified a list of critical areas for continued growth and improvement that includes “higher pay, more coverage, more accessibility to play the sports, and more resources.” While outlets such as Just Women’s Sports have pioneered expanded coverage and dedicated places for women’s sports, they still account for merely 6% of all coverage.
AU hooper Toccara Ross sees an expanded conversation that needs to take place in the next 50 years of Title IX that addresses the expanded impact of intersectionality on the experiences of women in sports.
“The next generation of athletes will continue to disrupt their sport, making room for a much larger conversation that enhances Title IX’s singular focus on sex while continuing to acknowledge the unique hurdles facing women of color and the LGBTQ+ Community,” Ross said.
And, lastly, the pay disparities between men’s and women’s professional sports continue to be glaring. The 50th anniversary of Title IX comes as the Phoenix Mercury’s Brittney Griner is detained in Russia, where she was playing offseason basketball due to the expanded financial opportunities offered by international play.
There has been progress — as the U.S. Women’s National Team won its equal pay lawsuit and entered a CBA with U.S. Soccer —but it’s not enough.
Title IX could be the root of a whole new era of equitable compensation, and AU softball player Gwen Svekis highlighted a future where equal pay would be the standard across all women’s sports.
“I dream of the day that female athletes can get paid a livable wage to play their sport after college full-time,” she said. “Because of Title IX and the progress over the last 50 years, I truly believe that this is possible in the next 50 years.”