Tucked into the back of last week's sports pages was news that the Bush administration will refrain from killing Title IX. Other administrations have hailed Title IX as a boon to gender equality in the United States. But for the Bush administration, it was a close call, and this should scare everyone.
Title IX mandates that schools that receive federal funding provide an equal number of sports opportunities for men and women. This law is responsible for a huge increase in women who play sports, and women who play sports are better able to succeed in the workplace than women who don't.
In 1973, when Title IX came into being, few girls or women played organized sports. Today 96% of women who have children say they would offer a daughter either more or the same encouragement to play sports as they would offer a son. According to Jane Gottesman, editor of Game Face: What Does a Female Athlete Look Like, “The stigma attached to girls’ participation in sports is gone. Helped along by Title IX, there is a clear understanding that the benefits of athletic participation accrue equally to men and women.”
According to Sports File, “Women executives who participated in organized sports after grade school were less likely to feel like sports alienated women in the workplace.” These women said sports helped them to be more disciplined, function better as part of a team, and develop leadership skills that contributed to their professional success. Sports also helped women deal with failure.
So why was the usefulness of Title IX challenged? In order to comply with the law, universities have had to cut male teams in order to keep parity between men's and women's teams. The opponents of the law are organized, vocal, angry and almost all male. They complained that the tactics of compliance are unfair because they didn't want their teams cut. (Wrestling coaches, for example, were prominent complainers because so many lost their jobs; wrestling teams are usually one of the first to get cut from the budget since there is no female counterpart.)
The truth, though, is that the reason there is no room for these small men's teams is not that women are taking up their space, it's that university football teams destroy athletic programs. The football teams in Division I frequently carry more than 100 players (more than some professional teams). There is no women's Divison I football, so women reach parity with gymnastics, cross country, fencing — literally hundreds of sports opportunities. Men suffer because all the sports slots for them are taken up by football. Cut that football program and you could save the wrestling team, the gymnastics team and even start a men's badminton team.
But instead of going after football teams, jilted men went after Title IX. Their idea for solving the male sports problem was to trash the provision to protect women's teams. Opponents of Title IX said that women were gaining unfair advantages, which is especially ironic since women make up more than 50% of university students yet even Title IX mandates only 50% of the organized sports opportunities.
Pay attention to Title IX: Intense lobbying from women's organizations thwarted the recent assault on the law, but we should all recognize that on the whole, men are in favor of promoting equality for women until men start to suffer.
Of course, men won't have to worry for a while, because Catalyst reports that a scant 11.9 percent of corporate officers at America's leading companies are women. So men can afford to encourage equality in the workplace. If Title IX is any indicator, as soon as women start approaching equality in the workplace, men will realize that their favored position is at risk, and they will attack the corporate controls that helped women get to parity.
Meanwhile, take Title IX seriously. Sports make a difference in women's lives. If you are in college, join a team immediately — it will help you in your career much more than that accounting class will. If you have a daughter, encourage her to play sports. She doesn't have to play soccer: archery counts, figure skating counts. Every little girl can find a sport if someone is committed to helping her.
Some of you working women think you have no time for sports. Think of athletics like you'd think of career development programs: Imperative to keeping your career in the fast lane. Of the top female executives who played sports, a majority said it gave them a competitive edge at the workplace. Given the current percentages of women in senior management, it's clear that you need that edge.
For better or worse, we live in a society that bestows benefits on those with athletic experience. Celebrate the rescue of Title IX by getting more women into sports: It is never too early or too late.