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Empowering Women in Sports

What Is Title IX?

In 1972 Congress passed the Educational Amendments. One section of this law, Title IX, prohibits discrimination against girls and women in federally-funded education, including in athletics programs.

As a result of Title IX, women and girls have benefited from more participation opportunities and more equitable facilities. Women who were under 10 when Title IX passed have much higher sports participation rates than women who grew up before Title IX. Fifty-five percent of the "post-Title IX" generation participated in high school sports, compared to 36% of the "pre-Title IX" generation.35 Because of Title IX, more women have received athletic scholarships and thus the opportunity for higher education than would have been possible otherwise. In fact, many women Olympic athletes credit Title IX for the opportunity to attend college through athletic scholarships and to participate in sports.36 In addition, because of Title IX the salaries of coaches for women's teams have increased.

But the progress women and girls have made under Title IX falls far short of gender equity. From the start, the implementation of Title IX has been subverted.

More on Women and Girls in Sports

(Empowering Women in Sports, The Empowering Women Series, No. 4; A Publication of the Feminist Majority Foundation, 1995)

Implementing Title IX

Title IX passed with little controversy in 1972. Soon after Title IX passed, however, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and high school administrators complained that boys' sports would suffer if girls' sports had to be funded equally. Regulations about how to implement the law were not released until two years later, and these regulations did not go into effect until July 1975. Even then, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) did not enforce the law. Few complaints were investigated and resolved.

Under Presidents Reagan and Bush, enforcement of Title IX came to a halt. First, the agencies in charge of enforcing the law - the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, and later the Department of Education - dragged their feet. Then, in a 1984 decision, Grove City v. Bell, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted Title IX. In that ruling, the court said Title IX did not cover entire educational institutions - only those programs directly receiving federal funds. Other programs, such as athletics, that did not receive federal funds, were free to discriminate on the basis of gender.

But women's rights groups fought back. Four years later, over Reagan's veto, Congress passed the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1988. This act nullified the effects of the Grove City ruling by outlawing sex discrimination throughout an entire educational institution if any part of the institution received federal funding. In addition to the Act, the OCR publicly renewed its commitment to ending gender discrimination, calling Title IX a "top priority," and publishing a "Title IX Athletic Investigator's Manual" to strengthen enforcement procedures.

In February of 1992, the Supreme Court further Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools held that victims may be awarded monetary damages in sex discrimination cases. The case involved a high school woman who said she was sexually harassed and abused by a teacher. She filed for damages in Federal District Court, which dismissed the complaint, saying Title IX does not authorize an award of damages. The Court of Appeals agreed. But the U.S. Supreme Court held that compensatory and punitive damages were available under Title IX.37 This case was crucial in putting "teeth" into Title IX, allowing women to find lawyers willing to take their cases because of the possibility of damages awards, and threatening colleges in their pocketbooks if they refused to comply with Title IX.

One problem with bringing Title IX complaints against colleges is not knowing how much money a college or university is putting into women's and men's sports. Thanks to a 1994 amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act introduced by Senators Carol Moseley-Braun (D-IL) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA), colleges and universities are now required to disclose funding and participation rates. (This amendment contains the same language as a bill Congresswoman Cardiss Collins (D-IL) introduced in the House in 1993, but which was trapped in committee). The amendment went into effect in 1996. Students and prospective students can now ask a university's athletics department for a report on expenditures and participation rates broken down by gender. . . .

Taking the Law Into Our Own Hands

Because the federal government has not strongly enforced Title IX, women all over the country have filed civil rights complaints and lawsuits against their colleges and high schools in order to force their institutions to implement gender equity. These lawsuits and complaints have been quite successful.

Since 1990, hundreds of lawsuits and Civil Rights complaints have been filed under Title IX and state Equal Rights Amendments charging gender discrimination in sports in high school and college. Most of these have been resolved in favor of women, resulting in women's teams being reinstated that were scheduled to be cut, women's club sports being upgraded to varsity status, and women coaches receiving equal pay. Almost all of the cases that were dropped or lost involved men suing or complaining that they were being discriminated against.38

In 1993, Howard University head women's basketball coach Sanya Tyler sued Howard for sex discrimination under Title IX and the D.C. Human Rights Act, saying she was paid much less than the men's head basketball coach. Breaking new ground with the first monetary award given by a jury in a Title IX case, Tyler was awarded $2.4 million (later reduced to 1.1 million) in damages.

The California Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) has also made significant strides for girls and women athletes by taking offenders to court. Finding the entire California State University system in violation of the 1976 California Education Code mandating immediate progress in gender equity in CSU intercollegiate athletics, California NOW filed suit against all twenty University campuses. In an out-of-court settlement, CSU officials agreed to provide equal opportunities and funding for women's and men's athletics on all campuses by the 1998-99 school year.

Title IX has been used by women athletes at Brown University as well. Following the decision by the athletic department to cut two men's and two women's sports from their varsity roster, the women gymnasts took Brown to court. The students argued that the two women's teams combined cut $62,000 from the women's sports budget while the two men's teams only amounted to a $16,000 detraction from the men's budget. These cuts were even more enraging because Brown was already in violation of Title IX. The students' argument has prevailed in both the District and Appeals Courts. Brown University may appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Brown case has gone further in court than any other Title IX case.

Title IX has indirectly affected athletic decision-making at schools such as the University of Iowa, Harvard, and Stanford University. These schools initiated women's sports enhancement programs. These programs set a deadline for achieving gender equity by creating new women's teams, elevating others and providing additional funding in a broad spectrum of areas. At least sixteen other colleges and universities have also taken such action to comply with Title IX.39