The Legacy of Title IX: Obviously, Girls Can Play Sports Too

About 12 years after Title IX passed Congress, my seven-year-old sister joined a co-ed soccer team.

It was not unheard of for girls to play sports, but the leagues for girls were anemic compared to those for boys. The prevailing attitude was still that sports were for boys. Oh, girls might do gym class, and maybe play softball or do gymnastics, but sports were really for boys. Girls should stay home and tend the kitchen.

One of my sister’s new teammates told her that on her first day of practice.

My sister responded by flooring him with a punch.

The participation of women in athletics grew up along with my sister. My sister was 10 when Title IX turned 15, and playing traveling soccer on the one team our hometown fielded at her age group. She was 15 when Title IX turned 20, a freshman in high school and a member of the varsity soccer and varsity track teams. When Title IX reached a quarter-century in existence, my sister was in her sophomore season with the University of Kansas women’s soccer team, going to school on a scholarship that simply would not have existed a generation before.

As Title IX turns 40, both my sister and I have daughters playing soccer; my sister’s eldest daughter is about as old as my sister was when she decked a boy for telling her she should be at home, learning to cook.

All of my daughter’s friends have played sports at some point; all of them see it as something that everyone — girls and boys alike — does. There was nobody to tell my daughter or my nieces that they shouldn’t be playing sports; our daughter’s parents grew up with girls who played sports. It seems like the most natural thing in the world.

People will often point to the big things — the Women’s World Cup, or the WNBA, or sold-out games at the women’s Final Four — and try to talk about them as the legacy of Title IX. No doubt, they are. But the biggest legacy of Title IX is not at the highest level of sport, but the lowest.

The third generation of women to grow up with its benefits are just beginning to play. They will never understand why anyone would doubt that girls could be athletic, never understand why anyone would ever think girls shouldn’t play sports. They will view the idea that athletic exertion is somehow antithetical to being female as the absurdity it is.

Because of this, our daughters will grow up with one less thing to separate them from our sons, one less barrier to transcend. They will be able to take energy that they would have had to put into simply defending their right to play, and instead use it to play better, or learn better, or simply live better.

True, few of the girls who are starting sports now will reach the level my sister did, much less the level of star athletes like Seimone Augustus, or Abby Wambach, or Venus Williams. But then, few of the boys starting sports now will, either. They’re just going to go out and have fun and exercise and compete and learn to play as a team. The girls are, too. That may seem unremarkable. Which is why Title IX has been so remarkable indeed.

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Photo Credit: Ted Kerwin

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Scott haakon
Scott haakon3 years ago

It is not that girls can't play sports it is the cowardly way congress did the deed. Rather than funding girl's sports the mandated it which meant many men's sports had to be cut. Colleges do have a budget. Now men's sports are much fewer. It was not the right way to do it.

Jeff Fecke
Jeff Fecke3 years ago

@Tamara H. -- I wholeheartedly disagree. I was at a Minnesota Lynx game Saturday, and it was absolutely terrific to watch. The Women's World Cup drew huge ratings last summer. Women's sports have everything important that spectator sports do -- competition by elite athletes, with drama aplenty. It's not worse with women on the field.

Tamara H.
Tamara H.3 years ago

Boys and girls can play sports. Unfortunately, except for tennis and gymnastics, girls are not as fun to watch as guys. Regardless, no tax dollars should be spent on sports (don't get me started on funding the "arts"!). Sports should be played for the love of the game. Using universities as farm-teams for pro sports is ridiculous.

John Mansky
John Mansky3 years ago

With this continuing influx,it may well be that soon there will be only one public rest room. No longer a need for Men's or Women's...

Sandy Erickson
Sandy Erickson3 years ago

Why keep this going? Like you said this is three generations...been a while...rejoyce and be glad...stop poking the bear.

Winn Adams
Winn Adams3 years ago

I wish I grew up with Title 9. The sports for girls in my affluent school system were sad and pathetic.

paul m.
paul m.3 years ago

They are not as good as Men when playing Soccer,but once their is money too be made.
but in Ireland, we have Hurling, Gaelic Football and Rugby ( I woulden't go up against them)