“I specifically remember this,” Sandler says today. “I remember saying to someone, ‘Isn’t this great? On field day [at schools], there’s going to be more activities for girls.’ ”
Back then, sports were a man’s domain. Some worried about women competing too hard — “that their uteruses would fall out or something,” Sandler says.
When Title IX took effect 40 years ago, signed into law by President Richard Nixon, sexism and sexual harassment were foreign terms. It wasn’t that women weren’t victims of discrimination; it’s just that we didn’t have a good name for it yet.
Passage of the bill into law eventually even shook our country’s sports landscape, and residual progress in social interactions and the business world followed. Twelve bills have been introduced to weaken Title IX’s oversight of sports since its implementation. Five made it to a vote, but none has passed.
In the next two weeks, more women will compete in London than had been in every Olympics combined before Title IX’s passage. That’s not a coincidence. Polls show that 80 percent of Americans support Title IX, and it’s easy to see why.
“It’s all about timing, for me to grow up and have so many opportunities,” says Zagunis, the fencer. “And to have it be no question. It wasn’t, ‘If I will play;’ it’s, ‘What sport will I play?’ ”
Serena Williams has earned more than $38 million, and that’s just for playing tennis. U.S. women’s soccer has turned into a star-maker that would’ve been impossible to imagine 40 years ago, catapulting Hope Solo and Alex Morgan into commercials and higher tax brackets.
Male athletes are still generally more marketable than female athletes, but Title IX pushed America, and America is pulling up the rest of the world.
In 2000, a little over a year after showing the world her sports bra when the U.S. team won the Women’s World Cup, Brandi Chastain proudly pointed out the good side of losing the Olympic gold-medal soccer game to Norway. The fact that the match had been such a high-profile event proved that women’s sports were progressing.
The most important aspect of this isn’t the athletic achievements, as admirable as they may be, but what those achievements have fostered in our culture. Sports is a great machine for social progress — witness Jackie Robinson’s role in the Civil Rights movement.
“What we are seeing with the London Olympics is a reflection of the growth and impact of Title IX,” Billie Jean King, the tennis icon and a leading voice for women’s sports, told reporters recently. “We now have a stronger foundation for future generations of female Olympians, and we need to remain committed to sustaining this movement and the progress we are making, here in the USA and globally.”
That last part is important. For all the progress that’s been made, more is still needed.
Medals collected by female athletes and teams in London over the next 17 days will help.
Storylines might come from Claressa “T-Rex” Shields, a 17-year-old boxer from Flint, Mich. Women’s boxing was added to the Olympics for the first time this year, and Shields is the youngest on the inaugural American squad.