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Despite persistent inequities between men and women in sports, the federal government has been very reluctant to enforce the law. The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, charged with enforcing Title IX, is underfunded and, despite the reluctance of schools to comply with gender equity, has never pulled federal funding from schools or colleges that discriminate against women and girls. Enforcement of Title IX has, instead, been left to individuals. Women and girls have had to file lawsuits on their own to challenge discriminatory practices in schools and colleges. While almost all of these lawsuits have so far been resolved in favor of women athletes and coaches, this is an expensive and time-consuming avenue to gender equity.

Opposition to gender equity in sports comes from football coaches who fear that putting more resources into women’s programs will mean taking money away from football. When Title IX was first passed, the National Collegiate Athletics Administration led a campaign to have football exempted from gender equity requirements, arguing that football teams produce profits which fund other sports. This my this just one that this report debunks. Few football teams make a profit; most run at a large deficit. In early 1995, the American Football Coaches Association again called on Congress to revisit Title IX, saying Title IX was hurting football funding.

Opposition to gender equity also comes from coaches of men’s minor sports such as wrestling, golf, and gymnastics. These coaches have joined together to lobby Congress to change Title IX, which they argue is hurting their sports by taking opportunities away from men. This is another myth — that as more women become athletes, there will be less opportunity for men to play. In fact, this is not the case. As more women have entered athletics, they have not displaced men – instead, the total number of athletes has increased.

This report also points out that our current model of athletics heavily favors only the 66 superboy” athlete, leaving out women and all men who are not superstars. These “superstars” are trained to perform for big scholarships and eventually, for a few, huge professional salaries – often at great cost to the health and well-being of these athletes. This report makes a case for more emphasis on “lifetime” sports such as walking, swimming, and biking. Also included is a discussion of “partnership” models of sports that emphasize health, cooperation, and enjoyment over the “winning at all costs” philosophy that has caused so many athletic injuries, even among children.

Despite the obstacles women face in athletics, many women have led and are leading the way to gender equity. This report profiles women athletes and administrators who have paved the way, and offers “Strategies for Change” that women and girl athletes, coaches, administrators, and parents can take to make school and college athletics more equitable.

Is athletics an important feminist issue? Yes. Participation in sports benefits women just as it does men, helping to develop leadership skills, boosting self-esteem and grades, and promoting physical fitness and health.

Because of the pervasive discrimination against women and girls in sports, and because of the important benefits of sports participation, the Feminist Majority Foundation formed a Task Force on Women and Girls in Sports in May 1993. Chaired by Molly Yard, former president of the National Organization for Women and a long-time women’s rights and civil rights activist, the Task Force brings together feminist advocates, women athletes, athletics administrators, and sports activists to address the issue of sex discrimination in sports.

This Empowering Women in Sports report is a publication of the Feminist Majority Foundation’s Task Force on Women and Girls in Sports.

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