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Thirty-seven words pushed forward into legislation by my peers changed everything. Because of them, I had a path free of worry that I’d be able to play little league baseball, high school basketball or soccer.
Title IX law reads like this: “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.” You might remember them best from this Nike commercial.
The law meant that federally funded institutions like high schools and colleges had to provide equitable opportunities in sports for boys and girls. I get goosebumps remembering the old commercial with Lisa Leslie, Joan Benoit Samuelson, Marlen Esparaza, and my favorite player of all time Diana Taurasi saying “I just wanna play ball.”
It’s mind blowing — like a lot of things in this country — that equitable opportunities ever had to be a rule in the first place. Shouldn’t everyone want that?
But because of this monumental moment for gender equity, I not only was able to live out my dream of playing basketball at the highest level, but I was able to inspire girls and boys who saw me do so on national television.
It’s no wonder participation in sport rose ten-fold across high schools in America.
In 1972, around 300,000 girls competed in high school sports. Today, more than 3.4 million are playing.
And with opportunity, comes the competition. Having the resources to perform is one thing, but now that every young girl in the country has had the opportunity to look up to women athletes who’ve shown they can play before them, anything has become achievable on the court, field, you name it.
Did you know that the American women on the 2020 Tokyo Olympic team would’ve placed fourth in medal count if they were a country themselves? Did you see Jocelyn Alo crushing homers in the Women’s College World Series?
And how about one of the greatest sports resilience stories of all time, when Aliyah Boston — who’d missed a crucial layup in the 2021 NCAA women’s basketball tournament — came back and literally won everything possible the next season.
The fight for gender equity is far from over, though the gap has closed significantly.
Now comes another hard part — having the uncomfortable conversations and cracking down on the loopholes.
For example, colleges are finding ways to double and triple count their women athletes in surveys, and male practice players on women’s basketball teams are, in some cases, being counted as women. Like, what the hell?
For the younger generation, Title IX paved the way for us to fight a different fight, to fight for a different level playing field — and lead the charge in sports as a whole.
In 2021, I became the chairwoman of Maryland’s “Vote Yes on Question 2” campaign to legalize sports betting.
There, I saw first-hand how much money the industry had to offer and how little representation women and minorities had at the table. It was also eye-opening to see all the money being put into one men’s sports team or league and knowing how game-changing it’d be at the women’s level.
Using that knowledge, I thought about how to bring those resources to the women’s side. Sports betting is going to be legal everywhere soon — you can’t turn on the TV without seeing advertisements for it. So why aren’t we doing that for women’s sports?
We need those with power to step up — with their wallets as much as their sentiments. Women’s sports are sports’ biggest growth opportunity, and it’s time they’re treated as such.
Hell, the women’s tournament’s championship game between UConn and South Carolina averaged 4.85 million viewers, the most ESPN’s ever seen for a men’s or women’s game. The NWSL’s preseason game between Angel City and San Diego saw more viewers than most MLS regular season games.
The data is here, and we have Title IX to thank for that. When you put resources into women’s sports, they show return. We just saw MLS earn a 10-year, $2.5 billion distribution deal with Apple. Where’s our chance?
The first 50 years of Title IX brought us to the table. Now, we have to command it.