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April 1, 2004

How Title IX Influenced Women’s Involvement in Sports

In her March 18 keynote speech at Frick Fine Arts auditorium, Donna Lopiano, a member of the National Sports Hall of Fame who serves on the U. S. Olympic Committee Executive Board, gave some of the background and history of Title IX of the Education Amendments legislation.

“Title IX is a simple law, really: If an education program receives federal funding it can’t discriminate on the basis of sex,” Lopiano said. “This was never an athletics-specific law; it was an omnibus law, and it took two years before anyone asked: Does that apply to extracurricular sports?”

Initially, the women’s movement was not particularly excited about Title IX, Lopiano said. “They thought that sports was a training ground for men, for violence, that taught dominance over others. The real leaders were the dads, the generation of fathers who knew from their own experience how important sports are. Women who grew up before the 1970s did not have the opportunities to participate.” That’s changing, she said, as more mothers also have sports experience.

Ironically, she said, the reason that women’s participation in sports increased so dramatically is due at least in part to the negative reaction of the male sports establishment.

“Men in sports made a big deal about Title IX and created a media splash,” Lopiano said. “That gave the opportunity to talk about why support was important for women. The media didn’t talk about civil rights, they talked about the psychological and physical benefits of sports for women: Sports gave women higher levels of confidence. And there are health reasons: a lower risk of osteoporosis and breast cancer.”

Sports participants also are less likely to smoke, do drugs or get into trouble, she said. “That information came out because men made such a fuss about Title IX. The press educated the public for us.”

Among the positive results of Title IX are a healthy, growing industry that includes corporate sponsorships, new respect for female consumers, increasing media support, such as women’s magazines with health and fitness editors, and the successful appeal to women by NBC’s marketing of the Olympics.

Women’s sports continue to lag behind in access to large television markets, which are saturated with men’s sports, Lopiano said. “With the ‘big 4’ men’s leagues dominating coverage, there’s just no room on the platform, and women’s sports still have no rights fees. They have to buy TV time and sell blocks of it [for commercial support],” unlike the NBA or NFL which get millions up front from networks competing for the broadcasting rights, she said. “Rights fees beget ratings, which beget corporate sponsorship.”

Nonetheless, corporate sponsorships for women’s sports are on the rise in part because many corporations are wary of backing male athletes, who are more likely to get in trouble and harm a company’s image, Lopiano said. “The typical female athlete is humble, appreciative and shows respect. And women’s sports are affordable events with a young, family-oriented crowd that appeals to many sponsors,” she said.

“Women’s sports also have 50-50 male/female ratio of fans, and women participating in sports has increased women spectators of men’s sports,” she said.

“Duh: If you teach women how to play they’ll become fans.”

—Peter Hart

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