This has been a great year for women in the Olympics. In sport after sport, we've seen women break records and inspire millions of spectators around the world. There are women competitors from small countries that I need to Google, and women from the biggies like the United States, China and Russia.
Sally Jenkins, the Washington Post reporter who wrote an article in today’s Washington Post, says, “In 2012, winning Olympic gold is women’s work” (http://t.co/KxfhHuCF). Jenkins doesn't mention Title IX, but that 1972 law is part of the reason the United States has so many great women athletes in such a wide variety of sports in the 2012 Olympics. Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in all education activities, not just sports, but the biggest impact for female athletes has been mandating a level playing field (so to speak) for girls.
There are ten specific factors the Department of Education considers when they believe that Title IX is being violated. Those factors came out of what was standard practice up until the law was passed. For example, schools cannot discriminate against girl tuba players who want to be in the pep band, and they must provide equipment, practice fields, and decent practice schedules for girls participating in school sports programs. (http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=93)
Prior to 1972, girls were second class gym citizens. I graduated from Vista High School, Vista, California, in 1966, and I can only name one girl, Rita Guenser, who was an athlete. I remember seeing photos in the Vista Press sports section of Rita running in cross country races with boys. In my 1966 La Revista yearbook, there are 36 pages (out of 246) full of black and white photos of boys engaged in basketball, baseball, wrestling, golf, track, shot put, tennis, and swimming.
The yearbook has a total of three pages titled "GAA Goal is Fun and Games" devoted to the Girls' Athletic Association (GAA). GAA met every Wednesday after school. I don't know if Mrs. Picchiottino, the girls’ P.E. teacher, was paid to run the GAA program, but she was the only adult female I recall being involved in sports at Vista High.There was just one photo of Rita playing in the Powderpuff Football game, but none of her running track.
Fast forward to 2012, and we have terrific full color photos of girls playing softball on the front page of the Sports Section. Seeing images in the Juneau Empire of women and girls competing in softball, basketball, and other sports is not a novelty anymore. I hope the high school coaches have told their girls about Title IX, and the impact it has had on their opportunities as athletes.
Watching American women win medal after medal in the Olympics can, in a big way, be tied to the law known simply by the Roman numeral IX that gave them the opportunity to go for the gold.