Fifty years ago today, women made great gains in accessing the developmental pipeline of organized activities with the signing of Title IX of the Federal Education Amendments. The essence of 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.” 

The landmark legislation’s definition doesn’t use the words female or athletics, but that is where the law has had the most visible impact. When the law went into effect, approximately 300,000 girls were high school athletes. Now, close to 3.5 million females participate in high school sports, to say nothing of the increase in collegiate athletics, the Olympics, and professional teams.

Title IX did far more for women than promote co-curricular involvement — it shaped their habits and mindset for generations to come, and in turn, changed the country. When the law went into effect, there were 2 female senators and 13 female congresswomen. Now, there are 24 female senators and 122 female congresswomen, an increase of 873%. In 1972, Katharine Graham was the only female CEO of a Fortune 500 company; now there are 44 women. Today, just in professional sports, we have a female general manager of a Major League Baseball team, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, NBA owner, NFL referee, NFL agent, and many more women in other roles. While many factors contributed to the slow evolution, Title IX is certainly one of them.

When crafting policies or laws, it’s hard to know the long-term impact of the change you are making. While there is still a long road ahead to achieve full gender equality and acceptance beyond just male/female, today celebrate the gains that have been made thanks to the foresight to codify Title IX.

[And if you want a personal account of the impact of the legislation, may I recommend Christine Hawkinson’s book 50 Years in the Bleachers: What modern sports parents can learn from a Title IX pioneer.]

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