By Helen Carroll
Sports Project Director
Over the last 35 years, a lot has changed in women’s sports. But despite the advances, the playing field is still far from level, and there’s no easy win to this game. Take high schools for example. High schools across the country are still not providing equal opportunities for girls to participate in sports. Some are even cutting athletic opportunities in ways that worsen existing gender inequities or create new ones.
High school girls are half the student population, yet they receive only 41 percent of athletic opportunities. In absolute terms, this means that girls in the United States have 1.3 million fewer opportunities to play sports than boys.
To address this ongoing discrimination, the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) has launched the Rally for Girls’ Sports: She’ll Win More Than a Game campaign. As a part of this campaign, NWLC has filed complaints against 12 school districts across the country for failing to provide high school girls with equal opportunities to play sports in violation of Title IX, the 1975 law that prohibits sex discrimination in federally-funded education programs.
The school districts named in these complaints vary greatly, reflecting all sizes, regions, socioeconomics, and student demographics. Based on their own data submitted to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR), all of the named districts are failing to provide high school girls with equal opportunities to play sports, as required under the law. NWLC is asking OCR to investigate the high schools in these districts to ensure that girls receive equal access to these valuable educational opportunities. But these schools are examples of a much larger problem. OCR should also examine other schools, and schools themselves should look at their own data and take the steps necessary to treat their female students fairly.
In addition to calling on the U.S. Department of Education to investigate this growing problem, the Rally for Girls’ Sports campaign features advocacy and outreach to parents and other adults; a Facebook and Twitter campaign; a national hotline, (1.855.HERGAME), which people can call to report inequities; and public education, including an educational webinar to help school officials, parents and advocates learn about Title IX’s requirements.
NCLR strongly supports NWLC’s campaign, and we hope you will as well. NCLR has been working to improve Title IX compliance and opportunities for women in sports since our Sports Project began over 10 years ago. Our work has often focused on enforcing Title IX’s protections for lesbians, gender non-conforming girls and women, and transgender women and men n sport. We have successfully advocated on behalf of coaches and athletes who have been discriminated against because they did not conform to outmoded gender stereotypes. As we have seen firsthand, discrimination based on gender non-conformity, which is prohibited by Title IX, is closely linked to homophobia and transphobia. Title IX has given us the tools we need to tackle them both, and we will keep fighting until all girls, women and coaches of women’s sports are playing and coaching in fair and respectful environments.
In fact, young athletes who face multiple and interconnected barriers imposed by gender, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and economic status are the first ones left behind when schools are not enforcing the basic principles of Title IX and sports opportunities are not available. For example, studies show that girls of color are less physically active during adolescence than Caucasian girls and are less likely than Caucasian girls to participate in sports outside of school. Girls and women of color who play sports not only benefit from the physical activity, but also experience higher levels of self-esteem and are more likely to be involved in other extracurricular activities than girls and women of color who do not play sports. Title IX’s mandate of equality in school athletics programs is especially important for these young athletes.
For the last nine years as NCLR’s Sports Project Director, I have worked daily with these athletes, as well as with coaches and others who face blatant discrimination and have sought NCLR’s help to continue to have the chance to participate, or have a career, in sports. Title IX is a powerful legal tool in those cases.
If all of us speak out about the need for gender equity in athletics, it will make a real difference not only for thousands, but hundreds of thousands of girls and women, especially those who most need the life-changing benefits that come with participation in sport. NWLC’s Rally for Girls’ Sports campaign raises awareness of these issues and sends a message that schools will be held accountable for noncompliance with the law. Please help us spread the word about this important campaign. We need to ensure that future generations of girls have an opportunity to play.
Learn about NWLC’s Rally for Girls’ Sports campaign.
Read about NCLR’s Sports Project.