To change the behaviors, policies and engagement on a topic or issue takes time. One need only to look at movements such as labor, health care, voting, and sports to see the length of time it has taken for change to occur. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, the 40th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, and the 41st anniversary of Title IX.
I had a front row seat for the women’s sports movement and am so excited to see the recent work of ESPNW in crafting the Nine for IX stories showcasing the issues, leaders, and barrier breakers of the movement. Most people inside sport probably wouldn't call the women's rights advances in sports a ;movement. Sometimes, we are “too close to the forest to see the trees”, but it is clear that some changes exhibit linear growth.
For instance, girls sports participation has ebbed from a trickle to a fire hose. In 1972 only 294,000 girls played high school sports; today that figure is 3.2 million. Prior to the Title IX amendment, only one out of every twenty-seven girls played high school sports, only two percent of college athletic budgets were for female college athletes and there was not an availability of college scholarships for women. Now, one out of every 2.5 high school girls play sports, women receive 28% of college athletic budgets and 42% of college athletic scholarship dollars (Athletics under Title IX, 2013).
But progress has been uneven or non-existent on many fronts like employment of female coaches and administrators and exploding the myths still used to justify greater support of male sports and advanced through a media ‘circus’ on various issues and events. Like other social justice movements the public advances of the women’s sports movement from the 1972 passage of Title IX to today is a story of repeated struggles for acceptance and recognition. In 1995, CBS Sportscaster Ben Wright announced that Laura Davies boobs got in the way of her golf swing and impressive drives on the LPGA tour. Eight years later in 2003 Annika Sorenstam took on the men at the Bank of America Colonial PGA tour stop amidst thousands of “Go Annika” buttons and the grumbles of only two male pro golfers.
What a huge sea change from the 1973 Billie Jean King versus Bobby Riggs “Battle of the Sexes” which had divided a nation.
In 2000, sports media was abuzz with Tiger Woods seeking six consecutive wins on the PGA tour, but hardly heralded the fact that Karrie Webb had won 18 events in her first four years on the LPGA tour, finishing in the top three in 41 of 101 events. Track phenom Marion Jones is still the only athlete (male or female) to serve jail time for use of steroids (and she served while she was a new mother!). No male athlete who has admitted such use has ever served a day in jail.And what was the ridiculous media focus on Brandi Chastain taking her shirt off (a soccer celebratory ritual) after scoring the winning goal in the 1999 World Cup in a sold out Rose Bowl. We could go on and on.
Female athletes are sexualized, sensationalized or coverage is non-existent in the sport media. Race horses and dog racing get more coverage in newspaper and total newspaper coverage of women’s sports is less than 2% of the total sports coverage!
The one element that remains unchanged is the persistence of those men and women who initiated the women’s equity movement in sport. Their passion for social justice has not dimmed. And it is this persistent effort and commitment over time that now and again results in celebratory moments, memorable in their power and packed with emotion. A high five to ESPNW and Robin Roberts for producing and airing the Nine for IX television series this year. Nine stories have been released, depicting an incredible portrayal of the vocal leaders who went up against the stereotyping of women, the injustices of pay or access, the harassment by the media and more.
The faces and stories brought to life (Venus Williams, Pat Summitt, Sheryl Swoopes, etc.) remind us of the decades of persuasion, conversation, and influence it takes for equity to take hold and stand tall. Each of these voices spoke truth to those in power and eventually they were heard by the general public despite their efforts on and off the court being virtually ignored or mis-portrayed by the media.
Download the Title IX ESPNW shows on iTunes to witness the heroism of these women and the lessons we can learn from them individually. They are examples of what happens when good people persist over time in their efforts to achieve social justice. Their stories inspire all of us.More important, they show that working on social justice issues may take decades of labor and effort and often result in successful social change movements.Onward!