Title IX Turns 40, Flaws and All

As The Root celebrates the law that changed girls' sports forever, we also examine its shortcomings.

According to the Times, a 2007 Department of Education study concluded that, while 51 percent of white sophomore girls participated in sports, only 40 percent of black girls, 34 percent of Asian Pacific Islanders and 32 percent of Hispanics did. In college, although 50.6 percent of Division I women’s basketball players are black, as are 28.2 and 27.5 percent respectively of women’s indoor and outdoor track-and-field participants, the numbers are dismal in other sports: 2.2 percent in lacrosse, 2 percent in swimming, 5 percent in soccer, 8.2 percent in softball and 11.6 percent in volleyball.

“We should be allowed to say that Title IX doesn’t produce the solutions for all girls, because that’s the next step for advancing to a solution that does,” Dionne L. Koller, director of the Center for Sport and the Law, told the New York Times.

Joanne Smith, the founder and executive director of Girls for Gender Equity, Inc., was a college athlete. She benefited from Title IX but, like Koller, is not afraid to discuss its shortcomings. “I got a basketball scholarship,” she told The Root. “To be able to graduate [from college] without debt was an amazing opportunity, but at the same time, many of the coaches continue to be male, even in women’s sporting events.”

Smith is pointing out one of the other rarely talked-about realities of Title IX. While there were increased opportunities for female athletes, there has not been the same level of opportunity for women to coach as the number of teams increased. In fact, the number of women who coach intercollegiate women’s sports decreased after Title IX — from 90 percent in 1972 to 44 percent in 2010.

Smith also says that all aspects of the law — which bans gender inequality in federally funded programs as a whole, not just in sports — should be adhered to, and the implementation of the law must be uniform at all levels. “There is still such a gap between the letter of the law and the application of the law,” she said. “Title IX coordinators should be identified on the school’s website. It’s time for the Department of Education to revive this policy and put things in place to uniformly implement Title IX.”

For Smith this includes a focus not only on athletic participation but also on a reduction in gender-based harassment and violence in schools. “If we focus on these other areas, it will help us normalize Title IX and accept that we need implementation in other areas — instead of just focusing on the area of sports.”

Zerlina Maxwell is a political analyst and contributing writer for Ebony.com, theGrio.com and Feministing.com. She writes about national politics, candidates and specific policy and culture issues, including domestic violence, sexual assault, victim blaming and gender inequality. Follow her on Twitter.

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