This past basketball season, I watched exactly one full basketball game: the Women’s NCAA National Championship game between Baylor and Notre Dame. The Baylor Bears mauled the Fighting Irish 80 to 61.
As I enjoyed the game, watching the athletic grace and composure of exceptional athletes working the court, listening to the announcers tell of the achievements of the women on the teams, as well as of their accomplished (female) coaches, I wondered how many of the participants knew that they were there partly because of the number nine, or more accurately, Title IX, Education Amendments of 1972.
No team makes the trip to any National Championship without an incredible amount of talent and input of work and dedication by each player, coach, support person, and family. To suggest that any member of the team arrived at the championships as a result of some old law seems heresy, but call me a heretic—that is what I believe.
While we were watching the game, and I was thinking about Title IX, Joan, my spouse, turned to me and said, “This is the fortieth anniversary of Title IX.” Joan graduated before Title IX was law, and knows the positive impact that it had for younger women, and for her daughter, a high-school athlete, college graduate, successful business woman, and mother.
The opening statement is simplicity itself, and applies to more than athletics:
“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.”
I appreciate that Title IX uses the same language as the U.S. Constitution, “No person.” I leave to the reader the import of that wording.
Mia Hamm, the highest scoring soccer player in international competition, ever, was born in March, 1972. President Richard Nixon, a Republican (no, really; Nixon also created the Environmental Protection Agency), signed Title IX into law in June, 1972. Apparently, those three months in which infant Mia would have been encouraged to ”Put down the ball and pick up a doll,” did not hamper her later development as one of sports’ all-time best athletes. Mia started playing soccer as a young girl, and at fifteen was on the US National Women’s Team.
Contrast Mia’s early sports experience to that of Bobbi Gibb, born 30 years earlier than Hamm: Bobbi tried to register for the 1966 Boston Marathon, but officials turned her down because women were “physiologically incapable” of running long distances, the longest approved women’s races were 1.5 miles. Bobbi hid in the bushes near the starting line, and joined the start mid-pack. Kathrine Switzer, born 25 years before Mia Hamm, received an official number for the 1967 Boston Marathon, but upon ‘discovery’ part way into the race, an official tried, unsuccessfully, to physically remove Kathrine from the pack.
Mia Hamm assaulted the soccer world wearing her jersey with the numeral nine (9). Whenever I would see her play, I would think that number was fitting, as Mia exemplified the ability of women and that Title IX at least removed many administrative and access issues, letting a woman expend her energies towards her goals. I wonder if Mia was aware of the significance of her jersey number. Regardless, Mia had force of law giving funding parity (sort of) where generations of women before her had to scrap for funding scraps.
I’ve come almost full-circle, back to the National Champion Baylor Bears and their opponents, the Fighting Irish. I believe that women at all levels of sport and education receive benefits from Title IX, and although the fight is beginning again, apparently, I cannot help to think of Title IX whenever I see women working to reach their full potential. I also think about President Nixon, who disappointed me in so many ways, but, in fact, used government to achieve good as well as the venal.
This piece is to celebrate women, but I would be remiss to ignore the Republican Party crasher with its recent onslaught on women, economic parity, environmental health, and anything else that it considers might harm short-term profits. (I don’t see the Democratic Party doing much better, unfortunately.) The Republicans have become the unabashed front for sponsoring the new people—corporations—and their free ridership. Republicans seem intent to having women fight once again to prove that they are people, and should have equality under the law, just like males and corporations.
Congratulations to the National Champion Baylor Bears, Fighting Irish, and to every woman that has shown what makes Homo sapiens such a tough species. Grandmother would be proud!