On Title IX’s 49th: Nine Steps for Gender Equity in Athletics

High school track field

Women and girls have made a lot of progress since Title IX passed 49 years ago this June 23, yet we’re still not over the finish line. At the high school level alone, boys get a million more opportunities to play sports compared to girls, even though girls want to play in far higher numbers. Female athletes also face huge barriers such as being treated as a second class when they do play—from inferior locker rooms and facilities to worse practice and game times. People talk about girls “dropping out” of sports in adolescence at higher rates than boys, yet it is often unwelcoming and negative messages and practices that force girls out of sport.

We can do better across the nation and equity-oriented game plans are easy. On this 49th anniversary of Title IX, as the Olympics approach, U.S. women will undoubtedly showcase their many talents and gold medals, while highlighting the many struggles they and millions of girls and women daily face to play and stay in the game. Here are nine things we can all do to honor and further Title IX—right now—to instill athletics-based gender equity nationwide:

    1. Change the Channel: Consider the games you watch at home, at local businesses, and in person as live spectating resumes. Ensure you and your family or friends are tuning in to at least 50% women’s sporting events, showing with your remote, clicks, and dollars that women’s sports matter while growing women’s college and pro leagues.
    2. Take Stock at Your Local Schools and Parks and Rec: Are girls getting their proportional share of sports slots at your local K-12 schools and in parks and recreation leagues while being treated equally? Unfortunately mostly not, but the good news is there are many online tools to assess and provide girls far more equal opportunities to get into the game.
    3. Promote Girls and Women in Sports: From helping girls in your own family get into the game from the youngest ages (g., giving your toddler daughter or girl neighbor a soccer ball) to supporting women in your life to play in adult rec leagues (e.g., babysit for mom so she can play), we can be allies for girls and women to learn, play, and stay active.
    4. Remember It’s More Than Fun and Games: To anyone who thinks sports are just games, know that girls who play sports in high school are correlated to make 7%+ higher wages as adults compared to non-athlete peers, and to be healthier, mentally and physically (especially in the midst of the pandemic), plus girls that play graduate at higher rates.
    5. Get Everyone Into the Game: Ensuring youth sports are inclusive to all, regardless of gender and LGBTQ expression, orientation, and identity is critical as sports are about positive development, instilling constructive life lessons, and building teamwork for everyone.
    6. Lift Up Those Facing Greatest Barriers: Studies show that girls of color in particular are not getting nearly enough sports opportunities and thus, we must ensure girls of color, and those in under-resourced communities, have far more access.
    7. Root Out System-Wide Inequity: The U.S. Women’s National soccer team lawsuit for equal pay and conditions and the NCAA women’s basketball players’ complaints about unequal amenities are tips of the gender inequity iceberg in sports. Gender equity in youth sports is a key part of the game plan to root out system-wide inequality, from preschool to the PAC-12 and the pros.
    8. Tap Female Coaches: Girls and young women having female coach role models goes a long way to inspire female athletes, honor the unique and amazing contributions women coaches provide, and reinforces girls’ and women’s participation in all levels of sports. Recruiting, hiring, retaining, and supporting women coaches are essential strategies.
    9. Realize Gender Equity in Sports is Simple and Doable Now: Instilling gender equity in youth sports, by spotting and correcting inequality in our schools and parks and recreation programming is attainable at essentially no cost (e.g., just share existing resources and facilities) and the right thing to do.

As we near the half-century mark of Title IX, there remain glaring imbalances faced by girls and women in sport, yet easy steps toward solutions. Start today by assessing your local K-12 schools, scheduling a women’s sports watch party, and spearheading a new girls’ team, division, or league in your area. Achieving equality is a team sport.

Kim Turner is a senior staff attorney and director of the nonprofit Fair Play for Girls in Sports project of Legal Aid at Work.

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