Where would we be without Billie Jean King? Trailblazers such as Donna De Varona? Ann Meyers? That group helped spawn a modern generation of empowered athletes – gold medal winners such as Dot Richardson, Brandi Chastain and Julie Foudy, Kerri Strug and Lindsay Davenport. How about Pat Summitt receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom? Golfers like Dottie Pepper, Annika Sorenstam and Michelle Wie?
Today because of the gender equality enforced by Title IX legislation, career choices for women are varied and plentiful and athletic opportunities are significantly improved. Young girls now have role models: lawyers, doctors, engineers, architects, CEOs, astronauts and athletes. They can dream big dreams with the potential of making those dreams come true. The picture was a bit different just 40 years ago.
This week marks a milestone anniversary for the landmark legislation known as Title IX. It became law as part of the broad-based Education Amendments signed by President Nixon in 1972. While Title IX has become synonymous with gender equity in college sports, the resulting effects have been and continue to be, seen on playing fields and in boardrooms across the country. It truly is about making equal opportunities available for both sexes and has been delineated by opportunity and personified by exceptional leaders who transcend sport.
Donna Lopiano, a trailblazer and the former CEO of the Women’s Sports Foundation led the charge to get this legislation enacted, recently said “Title IX has contributed to two generations of women who are more confident, have higher self-esteem, are more resilient, and possess stronger self-images than their mothers and grandmothers. We are now seeing the first generation of mothers coaching their sons and daughters and millions of fathers are likely to be throwing or kicking a ball around the backyard with their sons as their daughters.”
Consider this story as told by Jeanie Buss, EVP Business Operation with the LA Lakers: “A few years ago, a young tennis star was asked about the impact of Title IX on her life. She answered that she didn’t know what Title IX was. At first, I was taken aback by the comment because Title IX has been a huge influence on my life. After thinking about it, I asked myself, Isn’t that a testament to the effectiveness of Title IX, because in her life, she never experienced inequality while pursuing her sport? I immediately went from astounded to inspired.”
The ongoing legacy of Title IX will be defined in different ways by different people. It did create a residual wave of opportunity and it continues to do so. We need to persevere and nurture this legacy as there is still room for more progress. It does make a difference in how we live.