What 50 Years of Title IX Looks Like

By Melissa Wickes
June 23, 2022
4 min

2022 marks the 50th anniversary of Title IX—the civil rights law that was passed to prohibit sex-based discrimination in any school or educational program that receives funding from the federal government. Title IX is most widely known as the law that unlocked many opportunities for women in sports. In some ways, it has created a ripple effect for women’s equality in general. While the last 50 years have meant a lot of progress for girls in sports, specifically in school programs, in many ways there is still a lot of progress to be made.

The History of Title IX

The first women to ever compete in intercollegiate athletics were the basketball teams of the University of California, Berkeley vs Stanford and the University of Washington vs Ellensburg Normal School in 1896. Through the 1930s, events like this remained uncommon, and women’s sports were performed only for “play’s sake”—which limited things like awards, travel, protection from exploitation, publicity, and women in positions of power. 

Title IX regulations were passed in 1975, and the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (which would become the Department of Education) gave colleges three years to comply with the new rules. This opened up the world of women’s competitive sports to women across the country

In 1979, female enrollment in higher education surpassed male enrollment, in a trend that continues today. One year later, Yale students sued the school to enact a grievance procedure to address sexual harassment. Although they did not win, this lawsuit made sexual harassment a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX. 

Since then, Title IX has continued to positively impact women both in sports and not—including increasing access to resources and equipment, education, and protection from sexual harassment.

The Impacts of Title IX Today

We’ve seen some really important strides toward equality and equity in sports this last year alone—including when the US Women’s National Soccer team settled their class action equal pay lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation for $24 million. This agreement established equal pay for equal work within the men’s and women’s soccer teams—something that would not have been possible without the foundations laid by Title IX. Or more recently, when Rachel Baker was hired as Duke Basketball’s first-ever General Manager.

Benita Fitzgerald-Mosley, LeagueApps Vice President of Community and Impact and Olympic Gold Medalist, began her career in sports only one year after Title IX was introduced (1973) at age 12. Though she did not know it while growing up, the impact of Title IX gave Benita the opportunity to succeed in sports both at the high school and college levels. Access to travel, equipment, and uniforms was never a problem on Benita’s teams because she was given the opportunity to succeed by the programs she was a part of, thanks to the protections of Title IX.

Now, as Benita watches her daughter Maya prepare to become a college athlete herself at the University of Maryland, she realizes that her daughter knows little about Title IX.

“In a sense, that’s progress. Her generation shouldn’t have to fight the same battles for equality that we did,” Benita wrote in Sports Business Journal. “After all, whether it’s on or off the playing field, equal opportunity is a gift that girls and women across the country and around the world deserve.”

The 50th Anniversary of Title IX: Still a Ways to Go

Lindsay Crouse, a writer for the New York Times who focuses on gender, suggests that “We Can Do Better Than Title IX,” in a timely Op-Ed.

“For all its successes, the groundbreaking legislation has failed to allow girls and women to excel on terms independent of boys and men. Like so much in our culture, sports are still based on a male model — a man’s body, a man’s interests. Current models of success in mainstream sport leave women competing on standards that exclude us, where in most cases we are not set up to thrive,” writes Crouse.

Crouse suggests a women-first approach to women’s sports—which includes dismantling the systemic advantages that male athletes and male-dominated sports benefit from, as well as increasing interest in women-dominated sports. It also means bringing more women into media and leadership roles in sports—like coaching, management, and media. 

Julie Foudy of the Women’s National Soccer Team—who was co-captain of the team when they won the World Cup in 1999, which set the attendance record for women’s sporting events—would agree. During a Q&A about youth sports with LeagueApps back in February, Julie explained that, when she first came to ESPN in 2006, it was all men—in production, in direction, on all the upper levels, and in C-Suite positions. During the 2019 World Cup, Julie found herself pausing to acknowledge that everyone she was working with on that particular set—the co hosts, the director, the producer, the camera people—was a woman. 

“That is changing slowly,” Julie explained. “Those are the decision-makers… Getting women in those positions, as well as familiarizing men with the fact that women play and there’s an audience for it, it takes time and a lot of frustration, but I do feel like we’re at this beautiful tipping point.” 

Today, as we discuss Title IX and what it can and cannot do for women today, a lot of the debate is centered around transgender rights. The current law does not address the rights of transgender students, and the Biden administration recently proposed changes to the rule that would “extend to sexual orientation and gender identity, giving landmark protections to transgender students.” 

Despite the progress that still needs to be made, women everywhere—particularly in sports—are celebrating the 50th anniversary of this milestone in women’s equality. Some of the most iconic moments in women’s sports—like the U.S. Women’s National Team winning the World Cup in front of a record-setting number of spectators, the University of Connecticut Huskies going undefeated and taking home the NCAA championship in 2002, Luisa Harris becoming the first woman to play in the NBA,  Alyssa Nakken becoming the first woman to coach in MLB history, and Benita’s daughter going off to run track and field at the University of Maryland—would not be possible without Title IX.