Reconsidering the Status of Title IX
Critics say the mandate shortchanges some men’s teams, while proponents argue women’s sports still remain underfunded.
By Ben Hammer
Tina Sloan-Green exemplifies the kind of far-reaching effects college athletics can have on a person’s life. The Temple University education professor and former women’s lacrosse coach was first exposed to field hockey while attending a Philadelphia magnet school. Sloan-Green went on to play at Westchester College, where she also played lacrosse. After college, she traveled abroad for two years as a U.S. national team member, an experience that led to a long college lacrosse coaching career and a life in academia.
“It changed my life,” Sloan-Green says. “I never would have had the opportunity to be a professor if I hadn’t gone out for a non-traditional sport like lacrosse.” After taking an interest in field hockey, she says she raised her grades, met teachers and made more friends and began to look forward to college.
Sloan-Green’s is the type of story Title IX proponents love to cite. Introduced in 1972, Title IX calls for a proportional number of opportunities for women in college athletics, a mandate that created women’s scholarships and programs that never existed before. Thirty years later, the results can be seen in the vigorous play of women’s high-school teams across the country and the popularity of women’s professional basketball and soccer leagues.
In recent months, however, a politically charged debate about Title IX has reached the executive branch, with interest groups agreeing only that the program is about much more than women’s athletics. Now, the U.S. Department of Education is considering changes to Title IX that many say would result in fewer opportunities for women to play college sports.
Women’s sports provide another way to access college and pay for tuition with scholarships and increased aid. But while much progress has been made, advocates say women still lag behind men in athletics and that the current challenges threaten to roll back the clock on women’s sports. Moreover, Title IX has done far less for minority women than Whites, statistics show, and experts and sports professionals agree.
“Title IX really has not had a significant effect on African Americans or other minority women” in athletics, coaching or administration, says Floyd Keith, executive director of the Black Coaches Association. “Ethnic minority women face a different struggle in the sport that they are probably the most visible — basketball — because they have the most competition. Not only do they have to battle the issue of being hired, but they have to deal with the gender issue.”
Relative to White women, African American women compete at lower rates in college. NCAA records, for example, show they appear in critical mass primarily on basketball and track and field teams. Black women hold an even lower percentage of coaching positions relative to their White peers and only a handful of administrative positions, according to NCAA statistics.
“There needs to be a strong effort to provide opportunities for young women of color at an early age in a variety of sports and to encourage their continued participation,” says NCAA Vice President Judith Sweet, who cautions about the dangers of weakening Title IX. “Inner-city club programs in a variety of sports need to be developed and financed so that they are truly open to all.”
Minority women’s groups say the Education Department and NCAA should be considering strategies for raising the level of minority women’s participation, not making modifications to Title IX that are likely to decrease women’s opportunities.
“Within Title IX there needs to be some sort of initiative that provides an incentive for organizing bodies or colleges to include African American women or recruit them in sports or to take on administrative roles,” says Sloan-Green, now president of the Black Women in Sport Foundation.
Many minority advocates argue that lack of exposure to non-traditional sports like swimming, lacrosse, field hockey and gymnastics in high school means fewer opportunities for Blacks in college.
“If you look at the NCAA, there are glaring problems. There is a disproportionate benefit between White females and Black females,” says Charles Farrell, director of sports issues at the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. “The problem is that we find a concentration of Black females in basketball and track and field.”
Women’s interest groups that have focused on Title IX for a long time say that less resources for minority female high-school athletes means they have less access to college athletics.
“They would have to have good athletic and educational opportunities to prepare them for college,” says Lisa Maatz, director of public policy at the American Association of University Women. “It would seem to me if it’s not happening there, there seems to be a breakdown that needs to be addressed.”
Modifying Title IX
In February, Education Secretary Roderick Paige convened a committee of sports professionals and educators that issued a report on ways to “strengthen enforcement and expand opportunities to ensure fairness for all college athletes.” The department is reviewing the report and considering whether to modify Title IX guidelines.
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