Guest Commentary: Student athletes feel Title IX’s impact

By Abby Sorensen

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX, a piece of legislation that is equally monumental and misunderstood.

Arguably the single most significant influence of progress for women’s sports, Title IX’s original wording does not actually make any specific mention of athletics: “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.”

Even though the law covers important gender equality issues in education such as hiring practices and admissions policies, Title IX is most frequently in the spotlight because of athletics.  Sports originally came under Title IX scrutiny because lawmakers interpreted athletics as falling under the umbrella of an educational “program or activity.”  This relationship between Title IX and sports was further solidified through the Javits Amendment in 1974, and then again by the implementation of the “three-prong test” of compliance in 1979.

This three-prong test debunks perhaps the most popular Title IX myth, that the law unfairly harms men’s sports programs.  Under this test, schools must fulfill one measure of Title IX compliance standards.

The flexibility to comply with Title IX in one of three different ways means schools are not forced to cut men’s programs strictly because of the law, and these compliance standards are continually updated.

Incidences of college dropping men’s teams to comply with the law are extremely rare. And since the law is written with gender-neutral language, it is also possible that women’s programs could be adversely impacted by compliance issues.

It is truly unfortunate that so many Title IX headlines report a negative spin on the groundbreaking law.

Since being passed in 1972, thanks in large part to the late Patsy Mink, a Democratic congresswoman from Hawaii, female participation in high school athletics has grown nearly 1,000 percent, with women’s college athletics growing by almost 500 percent.  One of its most impressive accomplishments is that women’s participation in collegiate golf grew by 139 percent between 1991 and 2005, and girls’ high school golf participation grew by nearly 55 percent in that same time period.

Hard statistics aside, Title IX has been making headlines even when the legislation does not get much direct attribution.  On Aug. 30, Erin DeMeglio became the first female to play quarterback in a high school varsity game in the state of Florida when she took two snaps for South Plantation High School at the end of a game.  She was featured in Sports Illustrated and People magazine, among other national news outlets, but Title IX was rarely credoutlets, but Title IX was rarely credited for her historical achievement.

In fact, Title IX is rarely directly attributed to success in women’s sports today.

The 2012 Summer Olympics marked the first time Team USA had more women than men, and won more medals than their male teammates.  Even though Title IX does not directly govern Olympic or professional sports, it is reasonable to conclude this Olympic achievement could be due to the increased quantity and quality of athletic opportunities available to girls over the last two generations.

Despite Title IX taking a backseat in recent women’s sports headlines, it is important as ever for today’s students, especially student-athletes, to understand and appreciate this law.  According to a 2005 University of Memphis study, almost 70 percent of sociology students surveyed were “unfamiliar” with Title IX, and 80 percent of those surveyed were female students. While it’s not necessarily important for Gannon students to have a thorough understanding of the historical and legal intricacies of Title IX, but it is important to understand that progress in school athletics has not come easily, and this progress should not be taken for granted.

Sorensen is Gannon’s women’s golf coach. She graduated valedictorian from Allegheny College, where she majored in women’s studies.