On its surface, it seems like it would be hard to argue with Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972. The text of the federal law reads:
“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.”
It’s a simple-sounding text that has had profound impact on every aspect of American education and athletics over the last 47 years. To be honest, as someone born in 1984, that impact can sometimes be hard to spot for me–it’s the water I’ve been swimming in my whole life. My whole life, I’ve seen Long Beach high schools and colleges dominate women’s sports, I’ve seen Team USA crush international competition the way the US women’s soccer team did at the FIFA World Cup last weekend. It’s easy to take the opportunities those women have for granted.
There are many people who don’t take this world for granted, of course. Billie Jean King, the most famous advocate for Title IX in the early 1970s, remains a great advocate for girls’ and women’s rights. She told me that one of her biggest regrets in life was not being able to play tennis at Long Beach Poly–even after her legendary career, she still wishes she had a memory of playing in a Poly/Wilson match.
Olympian Susie Atwood told me the story of being a 15 year-old swimmer competing for the USA at the ‘68 Olympics in Mexico City. When she returned to school at Millikan High, she came back a little bit late. There was no girls’ swim team at Millikan in that pre-Title IX era, so Atwood was in a general physical education class, where the teacher docked her attendance points for missing 10th grade PE to compete in the Olympics.
Rowing great Joan Van Blom, considered the greatest American female rower ever, was also born a few years too early to receive the benefits of Title IX. She was also in general PE at Wilson while developing her world-class rowing talent after hours at the Long Beach Boathouse.
Had Title IX been passed 10 years earlier, these incredible women would have had a chance to compete for their schools, to win and hang CIF banners, to leave their mark on the schools they loved while they were still students. Long Beach was actually a hotbed of girls’ sports activities in the early 1900s (with the Poly girls basketball team routinely winning state titles and even beating USC), before the creation of the CIF in 1913 put a stop to girls’ sports at most schools, drying up competition for the LB girls.
Until Title IX, of course, when opportunities began to spring to life across the country, and here in Long Beach. The Moore League doubled in size by adding girls’ sports officially in 1976, and collegiate scholarships were quickly offered to Long Beach girls, who’ve earned hundreds of millions of dollars in scholarships in the last 43 years.
All of this is what comes to mind when I hear someone whine that the reason Long Beach State doesn’t have a football team is “because of Title IX.” First of all, the reason the school dropped its football team was a lack of support, both emotionally and financially. Second of all, while Title IX might be one of dozens of hurdles to re-instituting the team: who cares?
I hear complaints all the time about small things that would be easier or better for high school and college athletic teams like football or men’s basketball. It always boggles my mind, because what we’ve gained by opening opportunities to all kids, not just boys, is so much larger than any other concern that could be brought up. We get to watch American women dominate the globe at the World Cup and the Olympics, yes–and I love that.
But we also know that all kids, not just half of them, can grow up with a dream, and have the chance to chase and fulfill that dream.