Title IX
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Title IX

A group of teenage girls at a soccer event, wearing team uniforms. Action photo of Tara being overtaken by another girl wrestler in competition.

“Without a doubt, Title IX has opened the doors of opportunity for generations of women and girls to compete, to achieve, and to pursue, their American dreams.” 
 —U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, June 2002

Prohibiting sex discrimination in public schools, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 also requires "equal athletic opportunity" for male and female athletes at schools that receive federal funding. A landmark civil rights law, Title IX has had a significant impact since it was first passed more than three decades ago. The number of girls participating in high school sports has increased exponentially, as has the number of women receiving athletic scholarships and greater opportunities in higher education. Girls have also benefited from the physical and psychological advantages of participating in sports.

Title IX Facts
  • In 1972, when Congress passed Title IX, there were 295,000 girls participating in high school sports, or roughly one in twenty-seven. In 2004, there were more than 2.8 million girls, or approximately one in three.
  • In 1972, women earned 44 percent of all bachelor’s degrees, as compared to 57 percent in 2000.
  • From 1981 to 1991, the total number of women's college teams increased by 66 percent.
  • Seventy-two percent of schools that added teams in 1992–93 and 1999–2000 did so without discontinuing any teams.
  • Girls receive 1.1 million fewer high school athletic participation opportunities than boys.
  • Women receive 38 percent fewer college-level athletic opportunities to participate than males at the college level.
  • Women receive 133 million fewer college athletic scholarship dollars than men.

Two girls’ basketball teams compete at a game while a crowd looks on from the bleachers.

Some critics of Title IX argue that the law has hurt opportunities for boys in traditionally male-dominated sports. The National Wrestling Coaches Association filed a lawsuit in 2002 against the U.S. Department of Education in an attempt to have Title IX repealed, alleging that it has resulted in the unfair cutting of boy’s sports, including wrestling. But most schools that add new sports teams for girls do so without discontinuing any preexisting sports, and in June 2003, a U.S. district court dismissed the wrestling coaches' lawsuit, citing that Title IX cannot be blamed for cuts to men's teams because educational institutions often make decisions based on factors unrelated to the law.

Enforcement of Title IX remains an issue for many schools. While colleges and universities are subject to regular compliance checks, public middle and high schools are not. The fact that Tara Neal in GIRL WRESTLER is not allowed to wrestle against or practice with boys in Texas is interpreted by some as a violation of the spirit of Title IX. This practice, however, is allowed because of a part of the law that allows gender segregation for contact sports. Today, most girls who wrestle at the high school level compete on boys’ teams, except for those in Texas and Hawaii, whose “separate but equal” policies offer separate, single-sex teams for girls at public schools. The Texas University Interscholastic League has argued that this "separate but equal" policy is responsible for the overall increase in Texas girls' participation in wrestling. In 2003-04, there were 150 girls' wrestling teams across the state, three times more than there were just five years earlier.

Tara's story is just one of a growing number of cases in which young girls continue to struggle for equal participation in sports. In fact, the number of complaints involving sex discrimination in middle and high schools—usually brought on because of the disparity in resources spent on girls teams versus boys teams—has outpaced those involving colleges by five to one since 2001.

The Department of Education assembled the Commission on Opportunity in Athletics to take a fresh look at Title IX and its impact. In its final report, "Open to All: Title IX at Thirty," the commission concluded in 2003 that it found strong and broad support for Title IX, as well as continuing debate regarding how the law should be enforced.


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