PEG PENNEPACKER, CAA
More than any other federal legislation, Title IX has dramatically
changed the course of education for female students and leaders in academics
and athletics in the United States.
Title IX is the federal civil rights law that prohibits
discrimination on the basis of sex, including on the basis of sex stereotypes,
in educational programs and activities that receive federal funds. Title IX
benefits both boys and girls in its efforts to promote and establish gender
equity in schools.
On June 23, 2012, Title IX
celebrates its 40th anniversary. It is so important to celebrate this
anniversary because it means more than what has happened in college sports and
in the professional world of women’s sports. While Title IX is best known for
its impact on high school and collegiate athletics, the purpose of the statute
is much broader.
The impact of Title IX has arguably been most felt in athletics through the tremendous increase in women’s and girls participation.
However, just as impressive is the law’s influence in opening educational
opportunities that were previously closed to women.
In 1971, before Title IX, women earned less than 10 percent of
law and medical degrees, and just 13 percent of doctoral degrees. Today, women
earn nearly half of all law and medical degrees, and more than 50 percent of
all doctoral degrees. And, this advancement is attributed to the revolutionary
change in women’s entry in unprecedented numbers into all areas of society. The
law remains critical as it contains guarantees of equality for women and girls
in other areas of education beyond athletics.
Girls who engage in sports reap
a myriad of social benefits. Participation in sports – no matter when
experienced in life – provides females with the benefits of physical fitness
and overall health. It builds leadership skills, teaches teamwork and develops
character - among many other attributes.
Furthermore, the value of girls playing sports has been
well-documented in numerous studies. It has been shown to decrease obesity,
increase educational and employment opportunities, and lead to higher
self-esteem. In addition, involving young females in sports has shown to reduce
prejudice against women, which allows for more extensive social integration
into society. This development increases networking, job opportunities and
social opportunities in general.
The Wharton Business School
conducted a study that showed how an increased opportunity in sports for women
actually resulted in an increase for them in the labor force as well. The study
revealed that girls who play sports have a greater chance of employment later
in life and also receive salaries 14-19 percent higher than those who did not
participate in sports.
Participation in sports builds endurance – both physically and mentally.
Goal-setting plays a part in most every sport, and those who participate learn
how to push themselves toward overcoming barriers and reaching those goals.
Values and mindsets learned through participation in sports eventually become
part of an individual’s practices and habits, and mesh with other parts of
their lives in order to enable them to achieve more professionally.
However, now 40 years later, a
gender gap still exists in this country. Women hold far fewer management
positions than men do and earn only 77 cents for every dollar that a male
counterpart makes. Some claim that a “glass ceiling” exists for women in the
workplace. And, although there has been a whopping 904 percent increase in the
numbers of girls playing high school sports since Title IX’s inception, there
are still 1.3 million fewer girls participating in high school sports.
Title IX compliance and
enforcement at the high school level could be even more critical than at the
college level. While much of the conversation about Title IX and its
enforcement has been centered on the collegiate level, it is really about what
happens at the K-12 or grassroots levels that prepares or does not prepare
young girls to want to be involved in sports and to gain all of the benefits of
In order to combat the
discrimination and prejudice that exists in society, participation in sports
can be the catalyst for change. The courts have explained that Title IX was
enacted in order to remedy such discrimination that may result from
stereotyped notions of female’s interests and abilities. Also, it may be argued
that interests and abilities rarely develop in a vacuum, but rather as a function
of opportunity and experience.
Title IX is not a “sports law.”
It is an education law. Athletics in American schools, which is an extension of
the classroom, is an integral part of the educational process. Educators
cannot afford to limit opportunities and potential for some. In the truest
sense, gender equity requires specific action to create conditions that
provide quality educational opportunities and experiences for all student athletes and enable achievement and career outcomes without regard
It is time for everyone to understand and fully embrace this
law. The vital point to remember is that it is important to continue to support
the athletic ambition of girls and boys while not curtailing the progress of
one over the other. For schools, this will call for good governance, fairness
and ethical judgment from educational leaders and decision-makers to ensure
that boys and girls share the classroom and playing fields.
Title IX’s intent is to ensure that male and female athletes
have equal access to all that athletics offers: competition, scholarships,
coaching, friendships, health and wellness, and leadership opportunities.
School districts need to first concentrate on preparing students for the
academic challenges that lay ahead, but they also must develop a long-range
strategic plan to institute the elements of education that go beyond the
Simply put, let’s do the right
thing for all young people!
Peg Pennepacker, CAA, is
athletic director at State College Area School District, State College,
Pennsylvania, and has been in public education for 31 years and a high school
athletic director for 21 years. She is an advocate for Title IX at the high
school level and serves as the Title IX consultant for the Pennsylvania
Athletic Directors Association.