What remains to be done 40 years after the signing of Title IX? Saudi Arabia's agreement to permit women to participate in the Olympics for the first time is an interesting reference point as this moment is celebrated. The coinciding Saudi moment is also an indicator of how much more remains to be done with regard to equal rights for women in sport. This is not meant to be a downer, but a reality check as we reflect on our progress.
Title IX is just 37 words long. The impact of those words has been more than could have been imagined, even though there remains so much more to do. "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." Ironically there is not a specific mention of sport. The law is, appropriately, limited to the United States. But the spirit of the law is needed globally.
Recently I have been writing, teaching and lecturing frequently about sports as a vehicle to save the world. I mean that figuratively, of course. I've been relying on economic development literature that points to the importance of projects that work, no matter how small of an impact they have. For example, solving clean water issues in a single village is more realistic than solving the global clean water issue. Thus is the case with Title IX. Title IX is having success on portions of the sports gender issue and that should continue. But more effort and maybe different strategies are required to address global sports gender issues and the area that the law does cover, race.
In 1996 Professor Alfred Mathewson wrote an essay where he saddled this Title IX lack of full racial inclusion dilemma with an old song title, "Function at the Junction," in his essay, "Black Women, Gender, Equity and the Function at the Junction." He chronicled and forecasted the absence of African American women from the greatest successes of Title IX. Similarly, just recently, New York Times columnist Bill Rhoden focused on this issue as well as the participation gap. There he highlights the positive impacts that have occurred for white women and suburban girls under Title IX, where African American success and presence is found predominantly in two sports, basketball and track and field. He also looked at the more conspiratorial issue of whether the exclusion from top level positions in female sports leadership was an affirmative exercise of white privilege, that is, whether there was intent in the preservation of the inequality.
The "function at the junction" remains, the lack of African American women in sports beyond basketball and track and field and the disproportionate benefits that have been derived by white women, suburban girls and even white men when it comes to administrative and coaching positions. One irony is the overall decline in the percentage of women coaching women from 90 percent in 1972 to 44 percent in 2010. But also at that junction are females around the world who for reasons ranging from economic to cultural to religious do not have the opportunity to participate in sport and gain the benefits that we have learned sport delivers.
Participation in the London Olympics by Saudi Arabia as well as Qatar and Brunei for the first time is important. For the next 40 years the battle is to preserve and increase the domestic gains and strive to more broadly incorporate women of color as well as girls and women around the globe.