Forty-eight years have passed since the enactment of Title IX, the greatest turning point for women in sport, or so we thought. As part of the Education Amendments of 1972, Title IX is a federal civil rights law that aims to eliminate discrimination based on sex in school-related programs and activities that receive federal funding:
“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.”
Growing up as a female athlete, Title IX is often revered by mentors and elders, as it gave women across the country the opportunity (one that many of our mothers, grandmothers, and female coaches never had) to participate in sports the way their male counterparts had for years. While much progress was to be commended, discrimination based on race remained largely unaddressed, leaving Black women and girls subject to inequities for years to come.
Over time, the gaps in the literature of Title IX have materialized. The New York Times exposed this issue, citing a 2007 report on high school sophomores by the U.S. Department of Education which recorded a 51 percent sports participation rate for white girls, as compared with 40 percent for Black girls, 34 percent for Asian/Pacific Islanders, and just 32 percent for Hispanic girls.
These high school participation rates quickly manifest at the collegiate and professional levels and even seep into the coaching and administrative worlds–just 11 percent of NCAA female athletes are Black, whereas 68 percent are white.
Candace Parker of the Los Angeles Sparks furthers this discussion, reflecting on her own experience in the WNBA, where the majority of players are Black, yet not one of the twelve head coaches is a Black woman.
“Exposure breaks down barriers,” Parker stated on a panel with the Women’s Sports Foundation via Ms. Magazine. Sharing the platform with Parker were a number of women, including Billie Jean King, who reminded listeners that, “Girls of color continue to be underserved and overlooked–yet society is universally better off when everyone is given both opportunity and a loud voice. And for that to be accomplished, we have a great deal more to do,” via Ms. Magazine.
While white women have become the vast beneficiaries of the law, there are many individuals working to change the current state of women’s athletics. “We need to build a pipeline,” another member of the panel and senior director of the Advocacy Women’s Sports Foundation, Sarah Axelson, said via Ms. Magazine, “This is on all of us. It is a systemic issue.”
As Candace Parker reminded us, exposure is the first step in tackling the inequities perpetuated by Title IX, but not the last. Black women and girls are still not given the same opportunities many of their white counterparts receive due to forms of modern-day segregation like the separation of school districts by income class, racial concentration in schools that coincides with unequal funding, an increasing economic gap as well as educational gap, and the list goes on.
Black women and girls have battled against the current to succeed in the world of sports, and Title IX did not provide the very helping hand it was created for. We all have the opportunity and the responsibility to actively uplift Black individuals and their voices in order to truly level the playing field for all female athletes.