Monday, June 25, 2012

On this day, well last Saturday, in history

Saturday marked the forty-year anniversary of President Nixon giving the executive thumbs-up to Title IX of the Equal Opportunity in Education Act. Title IX says that no activity or education program receiving federal assistance can discriminate on the basis of sex. Though the original language made no specific mention of sports or athletics, the law would ultimately change the playing field for women and girls across the country.

A few years later in 1975, the Washington state Legislature approved our very own version of Title IX. The law prohibited “inequality in the educational opportunities afforded women and girls at all levels of the public schools in Washington state.”

Over the past four decades we’ve seen girls’ participation rates explode at both the high school and collegiate levels:

  • Back in 1972, only 294,015 girls participated in high school athletics in our country. In 2008, that number had risen to 3,057,266. That’s an increase of 940%.
  • A similar pattern for college athletics: 29,972 women participated in NCAA varsity athletics in 1972. By 2005, that number had increased 456% to 166,728.

That’s all well and good, but what does this really mean for the ladies? Some pretty compelling research shows us that athletic participation leaves girls with much more than a few nostalgic memories from the field.

Long after they’ve hung up their bats and gloves, female athletes have an increased rate of employment and higher wages when compared with their peers.  Huffington Post blogger Claire Gordon reported on some of the reasons why female athletes are finding success later in life:

Some of the reasons are clear. Sports build up physical and emotional endurance, and demands that players be constantly aware of their weaknesses and strive to overcome them.

She goes on to write:
The team-bonding and intensive exercise, with the sense of strength, power and skill that it brings, fortifies girls' self-esteem. All that practice in self-assertion and strategic thinking can also translate from the pitch to the boardroom, unleashing a competitive drive that often isn't nurtured in girls.

It shouldn’t come as much surprise that Title IX has also meant both short-term and long-term health benefits for women. Teenage pregnancy is about half as likely in female athletes, and girls who participate in sports are less likely to use drugs. Athletes are more likely to have a positive body image than non-athletes, and research shows a lower risk of obesity for women since Title IX was enacted.

Yep, it’s hard to argue with the results of girls lacing up their cleats or pulling up their knee pads and getting in the game. And as it’s been said before: what’s good for women is also good for Washington.

To read this story in Spanish, please click here.