Title IX turns 40…

If you are one of the tens of people who either subscribe to this blog or stumble upon it while looking for something better on the web (i.e., a high quality, professional blog or web site of substance and content), you know from reading that it’s not too often that I write about anything worthwhile and meaningful here. Sure, there are the periodic and incredibly creative top 10 lists, inspirational videos and witty posts about things like “The Price is Right” (that might appear funny on the surface but has the potential to transform and improve lives) but when it comes to outright substance, this blog falls short. I’ll admit it. “How I Roll” usually doesn’t go deep. C’est la vie.
No more.
When I recently read about the upcoming 40th anniversary of Title IX, I began thinking. And remembering. And appreciating. Then I started writing…
In my lifetime, sports have offered an equal playing field to both boys/men and girls/women. I grew up with the opportunity to try almost every sport imaginable and so did my two sisters. Hundreds of thousands of others did, too.  There was no discrimination. Women weren’t locked in the kitchen. Dolls weren’t duct taped to the fragile hands of little girls. It was OK for everyone to get dirty and it was acceptable for girls to sweat.  And when a girl beat up a guy, well, it was even cooler.
There was an equality that we all enjoyed. From youth sports through high school, college, semi-pro and even into adult life, everything was right there for us. All four seasons. Any time we wanted. It didn’t matter if the athlete sported a mullet, flat top, French braid or pony tail.
But things weren’t always that way. When I first started racing Boston in the late 80’s, I learned how a runner named Katherine Switzer was almost wrestled from the course when officials found out the athlete registered as “K. Switzer” was a woman (see photo above). The first athlete I ever met near Boston’s starting line was Jean Driscoll and she is about to be inducted into the Olympic Hall of Fame. I faintly remember how big a deal it was when a confident Billie Jean King faced off against a certain gentleman athlete in a celebrity tennis match that meant so much more. And I remember how a team of female Yale rowers made a bit of a statement by lettering themselves in a human “Title IX” billboard demanding equal treatment when it came to facilities and treatment from their university.
These women were pioneers and their efforts forever changed the playing field of sports. They broke down barriers and changed perceptions. So did athletes like Diana Nyad, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Tracy Caulkins, Chris Evert, Ann Meyers and Nancy Lieberman.
In 1999, I sat glued to the television alongside my two sisters watching a team of USA soccer players pack the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, on a weekend afternoon and beat China in a World Cup final that was one for the record books. The Yanks, who won on penalty kicks, were women (see SI cover above). The three of us celebrated their accomplishment. We didn’t care that they were women. Neither did America.
A year later, while participating in a global sports symposium at Tufts University, I had the chance to spend time with a woman named Patsy Mink. No, it wasn’t Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain or Julie Foudy but because of Patsy Mink, athletes like Hamm, Chastain and Foudy were able to score goals, rip off their shirts (see Newsweek cover above) and be loud.
I remember Patsy Mink telling me one afternoon that in over twenty-five years, no one had ever invited her to sit on a panel about women in sports, She had flown from Hawaii just to sit on the panel and she seemed more generally appreciative of the gathering then did those around her. It was surreal to me.
Have you ever heard of her?
Representative Patsy Mink (D-HI) was the woman who drafted and introduced the 37 word bill known as Title IX to Congress. “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.” Simple. Effective. Game changing. President Richard Nixon signed it into law on June 23, 1972. I was four at the time. My sister, Marybeth, was three and my sister, Missy, was almost one.
What has happened on the playing field since that day? Four decades ago, 294,015 girls competed in high school sports. By last year, the Women’s Sports Foundation reports the number had ballooned to 3,173,549. It’s still growing.
Four decades of Title IX have produced some tremendously memorable moments across all of sports. Think Janet Evans, Cammi Granato, Mary Lou Retton, the Williams sisters, Dara Torres, Joan Benoit Samuelson and Bonnie Blair. Think the 1999 Women’s World Cup USA soccer team. Think about the millions of girls and women who play every day and never get the glory. Think about your sisters, cousins, aunts and moms. Think grit and determination.
Title IX turns 40 very soon and because of Representative Mink’s 37 game changing words (along with President Nixon’s signature) millions of dreams have become a reality.  
It’s amazing.
When I drive home from work late in the evening, I pass a lighted field on which young boys and girls play everything from soccer to lacrosse nearly every night of the week. They don’t know who Patsy Mink is and they probably don’t know what Title IX is either. In 2012, that’s just fine. What they do know is how important sports are to life and living. That’s more important.
When I see these young athletes living out loud, and I think about how that same pattern is being repeated on thousands of other playing fields all across the country at the exact same time, I know there will be millions more moments to come.
Happy Birthday Title IX.