Fifty years ago today, Title IX was signed into law by President Richard Nixon. Title IX contains only 37 words – “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” — but those 37 words have had a major impact on the sports world.
The opportunities for women to compete in sports before Title IX were extremely limited. The NCAA offered no scholarships for women and hosted no championships in women’s sports. In 1972, only 30,000 women competed in college sports, compared to 170,000 men.
Representative Patsy T. Mink (D, HI) was determined to change that. Mink, the first woman of color elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, was the primary sponsor of Title IX, which she wrote in response to adversity she faced during her own education. Other politicians and activists who championed Title IX included Rep. Edith Green (D, OR), who oversaw hearings on the legislation, Dr. Bernice Sandler, who documented and spoke out against gender-based discrimination, and tennis legend Billie Jean King, who testified before Congress on behalf of Title IX in 1972.
“We had no idea how bad the situation really was — we didn’t even use the word sex discrimination back then — and we certainly had no sense of the revolution we were about to start.”— Dr. Bernice Sandler, known as the “Godmother of Title IX” for her work drafting the legislation and fighting for women’s rights in education.
While the word “sports” isn’t included in the wording for Title IX, women’s sports have benefited from Title IX in so many ways. High school and college programs must now provide equal treatment and opportunities in women’s and men’s sports, including training, money and equipment.
One inequality Title IX helped to change was the difference in scholarships for men’s and women’s sports. Basketball player Ann Meyers became the first woman to receive a four-year athletic scholarship at UCLA in 1974. She went on to break even more barriers in the sport; she posted the first quadruple-double in NCAA Division I history in 1978, then became the first woman to sign an NBA contract in 1979.
The NCAA established Division I women’s national championships in January 1981 — the first championships in cross country, field hockey, volleyball, swimming, basketball, golf, gymnastics, tennis and softball were crowned that year. FIFA staged the first-ever women’s World Cup in 1991, over 60 years after the first men’s Cup. The USWNT won the inaugural trophy, competing with a squad composed of NCAA stars.
Today, 2.6 million girls participate in high school sports, compared to just 295,000 in 1972.
Women’s basketball accounts for 15.7% of name, image and likeness (NIL) deals, putting them in third place behind football and men’s basketball. Women’s sports take the next three spots, with volleyball, softball and swimming and diving athletes making serious cash.
Nearly half of female C-suite executives competed in college sports and 94% played sports growing up.
In 2018, 10,586 women’s teams competed at the NCAA level across Divisions I, II and III, an all-time high.
An all-time attendance record was set at the most recent women’s March Madness tournament when 216,890 people attended first- and second-round games.
Title IX was renamed the Patsy Takemoto Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act in 2002, following the death of its coauthor.