Title IX Turns 40 in June and ESPN is throwing a party

On June 23, 2012, Title IX, the law that changed women’s sports in this country, is turning 40 and ESPN is throwing it a bash. Title IX states simply, powerfully, and without exception:

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 educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

The law touches on all aspects of any educational institution, institutions from elementary school to college, which receives money from the Federal government but is most often associated with athletics. Title IX has been controversial since its beginning, particularly in light of many schools deciding to cut men’s teams in order to comply with the law, but in terms of increasing both opportunities for, and the number of women participating in athletics it has been an amazing success. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, since the law was passed in 1972, the number of women participating in high school athletics has increased over 900%. The number of women in varsity college athletics has increased more than 450%.

Starting on March 26, ESPN is going to celebrate the 40th anniversary of this ground breaking legislation with a variety of programs. It is launching a site within espnW.com dedicated to Title IX, its history and its impact. Katie Couric will be helping to launch the site with an essay next week. The site will include both first person essays, in-depth articles, and pieces analyzing the impact of the law.

For those of us who can’t start the day or go to bed without watching Sportscenter, we will be treated to a countdown of the top 40 female athletes of the last 40 years. The countdown starts on April 30 and it will reveal the top athlete of the last 40 years on the June 23, the 40th anniversary of Title IX. I don’t know who they will pick for the number one athlete but I have to think Billie Jean King will be high on the list for both her athletic achievements and her work to achieve equality for women in sports.

ESPN will also devote an entire magazine issue to women’s sports to examine the impact, the successes, and limitations of the law over the past decades. It will also be producing a series of films highlighting women’s sports that will air in the spring and summer of 2013 for which Robin Roberts of Good Morning America is one of the executive producers. If the films they produce are on par with those done for the 30 for 30 series, women’s sports fans are in for a treat because the 30 for 30 series produced some wonderful, insightful, and fascinating films focused on a single person, event, or issue.

I love sports. I grew up playing any sport, any time, usually with the boys at school or in my neighborhood. I was the only girl on many of the teams I played on as a kid, but even then I knew that I was lucky to have the opportunity to play sports that my mother hadn’t. I would not have attended the college that I did without sports. I would certainly not be the person I am without those experiences; the hard work, the sacrifices, the team work, the camaraderie, the competition, and the learning that happens on and off the field, the ice, and the court.

I owe a huge debt to the people who made Title IX happen, to the women who came before me and didn’t get to play sports, and to the women who stood up and who protested so that the law would be enforced. I hope that ESPN will give voice to those women, offer thanks to them on behalf of all of us who were able to pull on a uniform and to compete, and highlight women’s sports in a way that is sometimes missing from mainstream sports reporting. ESPN covers women’s sports but I always wish there were more; more coverage, more depth, more stories, and more women front and center. Men’s sports are big business and sometimes they take up all the space in the room. Starting next week, I hope that ESPN can make a little room to pay homage to the law that made it possible for some of us to play, to dream, and to love sports from the field instead of from the stands.

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