How great was that World Cup victory last week?
Were you, like us, glued to your TV Sunday morning at 11:00, ready to watch soccer played with grace and grit by a team of US women who love the game, thrive in the spotlight and deserve all the plaudits heaped upon them for beating a determined Netherlands team 2- 0?
Did your house echo with shouts when Megan Rapinoe buried that penalty kick at the 61 minute mark? Did you jump up and down when Rose Lavelle split the Dutch defenders and added an insurance goal at 68:46?
If you somehow missed it, here’s a link to a brief highlight video that captures the excitement of the 90-minute game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0XzeUJIJ7Pc&feature=onebox
The US team’s victory was marvelous, and the movement toward equal pay it has spawned is fitting. My goal today is to put it in context.
On June 23, 1972, Congress passed Title IX of the Education Amendments Act, thirty-seven beautiful, powerful words: 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.
That law changed our world. It pertains to far more than athletics, but in celebration of last week’s World Cup triumph, in this post I’m going to focus on its impact on women in sports.
I was a freshman in high school when Title IX passed. Two years later, when the implementation gears began to grind, I was an editor of the student newspaper at my high school, The Page.
I first learned about Title IX through magazine articles, one published in Sports Illustrated and another in Ms. The SI feature summarized the nuts and bolts of the new law. The Ms. Article assessed what Title IX could mean for women and girls.
We aspiring investigative journalists at The Page promptly launched an investigation into the athletic budget at our public high school. After initial stonewalling gave way to several tense interviews, we went to press with an analysis detailing how much taxpayer money was spent on boys’ sports compared to girls’ sports. The ratio was 4:1, and it was obvious to all but the most gullible that the numbers had been cooked to spare the powers that be from having to admit the true disparity was far worse.
When we wrote our Title IX-In-Our-Town piece, only five girls’ interscholastic teams existed: The swim team competed in the fall, basketball was played in the winter, and girls could play tennis, softball or run track in the spring. One particularly brave and talented female classmate played on the otherwise all-male golf team.
Our exposé (such as it was) got a lot of local attention, and eventually progress came to my mill town in central Massachusetts. Today my alma mater fields a dozen female sports teams: cross-country, field hockey, soccer, and volleyball in the fall; basketball, ice hockey, swimming and indoor track in the winter; softball, golf, tennis, lacrosse and outdoor track in the spring.
Change came slowly, but it did come, not just in my hometown, but in cities and towns across the nation.
One tangible result is the USWNT, which has been a force to be reckoned with since it won the inaugural Women’s World Cup in 1991, nineteen years after the adoption of Title IX. The soccer team has won the World Cup three more times since (including this year) and has brought home four Olympic gold medals.
The soccer stars have counterparts in many other team and individual sports (including Maine’s own Joan Benoit, whose victory in the first women’s Olympic marathon 1984 ranks among the greatest athletic triumphs of all time.
If you want to experience the thrill of watching her electrifying lap around the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum again, here’s a link for you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0FWcbzHDXw
Title IX was the essential predicate that empowered female athletes at all levels. I applaud their hard work, patience and belief in themselves, and am grateful to the USWNT in particular for the joy they brought to our summer.
Brenda Buchanan is the author of the Joe Gale Mystery Series, featuring a diehard Maine newspaper reporter who covers the crime and courts beat. Three books—QUICK PIVOT, COVER STORY and TRUTH BEAT—are available everywhere e-books are sold. These days she’s hard at work on new projects.