In its paean to Title IX, the National School Boards Association misses some inconvenient information—like the history of women’s sports before the law was passed.
In its magazine, American School, the NSBA gives a helpful timeline starting with 1972 in which it notes that in that year:
- “Tennis star Billie Jean King is named Sports Illustrated’s first Sportswoman of the Year;
- “294,000 female athletes are participating in sports at the high school level. (Source: American Association of University Women)”; and
- “Title IX of the Education Amendments is passed by Congress and signed into law by Richard Nixon.”
For openers, with all due respect to Ms. King, she may have been the first Sports Illustrated sportswomen but she was not the first female athlete to achieve acclaim. Rent the 1952 film Pat and Mike, which starred Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn and you will see cameos by:
- Helen Dettweiler, co-founder of the Ladies Professional Golf Association, co-founder, Women’s Western Open champion, golf course architect, major league baseball broadcaster, golf instructor and one of the first women to fly military aircraft in World War II;
- Elizabeth “Betty” Hicks, “1941 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, a dedicated pioneer of two women’s professional golf circuits, journalist and flight instructor,” according to the USGA;
- Babe Didrikson Zaharias, of whom ESPN noted, “The Associated Press voted her the Greatest Female Athlete of the first half of the 20th century. The wire service also voted her Female Athlete of the Year six times – once for her track dominance and five times for her golfing prowess.”; and
- Alice Marble “a women’s tennis champion who overcame rape and tuberculosis to win 12 US Open and 5 Wimbledon titles. She acted as a spy in Switzerland for US Army Intelligence during WWII and was nearly killed on the mission,” according to Bio.com.
As well, the original Title IX law had nothing to do with sports. Later in the decade, the then-newly formed U. S. Department of Education issued regulations aimed at college sports but to associate the magical appearance of more than a quarter of a million female athletes in the early 1970s with the statute is a bit of a stretch.
Here’s what the law actually says: “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 assistance.”
The law goes on to state: “Nothing…shall be interpreted to require any educational institution to grant preferential or disparate treatment to the members of one sex on account of an imbalance which may exist with respect to the total number or percentage of persons of that sex participating in or receiving the benefits of any federally supported program or activity, in comparison with the total number or percentage of persons of that sex in any community, State, section, or other area…”
As I pointed out in a speech at St. Vincent’s College in 2008, “That’s legislative talk for ‘What part of quotas did you not understand?’”
I also noted in those remarks at St. Vincent’s that: “The number of women going out for college sports doubled from 1966 to 1972 when the law was signed and doubled again between 1972 and 1979 when the first federal regulations governing college athletics hit the books.”
“Can it be that the federal government can help women most by doing absolutely nothing?”
Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
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