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Viewpoint: Title IX Is Leaving Girls Behind
2013-02-04 11:04:43 AM
National Girls and Women in Sports Day, celebrated in early February each year since 1987, falls on Feb. 6 this year. The occasion first honored Flora Jean "Flo" Hyman, a six-foot-five, pioneering African-American athlete who used volleyball to rise out of a low-income California neighborhood, going on to win an athletic scholarship, an Olympic silver medal and international acclaim. Hyman tragically passed away during her prime in 1986 from a hereditary heart condition, but her story lives on, showing the power of sports to change a girl's life. Yet, years later, girls in low-income areas are fighting for the chance to play.
Forty years ago, Title IX of the Education Amendments Act granted female athletes like Hyman the right to equal athletic opportunities in federally-funded educational institutions, including high schools. Since Title IX's passage in 1972, the number of girls participating in high school sports has risen from 295,000 to more than 3 million. However, low-income girls of color in mostly urban areas have yet to reap the full rewards of Title IX or a little-known parks and recreation-focused law in California, AB 2404. Without athletic opportunities, these girls are missing pathways out of poverty through the many short- and long-term benefits of sports participation.
Many girls are benefiting from Title IX, but factors such as race, geography and household income often dictate which girls have access to athletic opportunities. The nonprofit Coaching Corps reported recently that at Piedmont High School in the Bay Area, with only 1 percent of students qualifying for free school lunches, 67 percent of the girls play sports. At nearby Oakland High School, where the majority of students qualify for free school lunches, girls participated in sports at a rate of just 11 percent. A recent report from the Women's Sports Foundation notes that girls in urban schools have the lowest percentage of sports participation at just 28 percent compared to 46 and 50 percent for girls in suburban and rural areas, respectively. Title IX is leaving some girls behind.
The dividends of sports participation for girls are clear, especially for low-income girls of color. Minority female athletes earn better grades than their nonathletic peers, African-American female athletes are 15 percent more likely to graduate from college, and Latina female athletes are more likely to graduate from high school and attend college. A 2010 study by economist Betsey Stevenson demonstrated that Title IX is associated with a 1 to 2 percent increase in women's employment and greater female participation in previously male-dominated occupations, particularly in high-skilled positions. Research also demonstrates that four out of five executive businesswomen played sports while growing up; the vast majority of these women report having learned lessons on the playing field or in the gym that contributed to their success in business.
Even today, it is far too common that a pristine football field with a high-tech scoreboard is reserved for male athletes, while female athletes are relegated to a run-down field shared with other teams. This persistent gap in gender equality is exacerbated in poor areas. We would never tolerate allocating fewer textbooks to girls than boys in any circumstance. Mounting budgetary pressure on schools is no excuse for giving girls fewer opportunities than boys, inside or outside the classroom. Under Title IX, a lack of parity in athletic facilities, equipment and scheduling can be reported, addressed and litigated if necessary. Yet few girls, parents, coaches and supporters know their rights or how to demand equality.
Schools are not the only arena in which girls are struggling for equal athletic opportunities. AB 2404 was passed in California in 2004 to build on Title IX and confront unaddressed gender inequities in parks and recreation departments. The state law is the first effort in the nation to bar discrimination in community youth athletic programs, following a spate of suits against Southern California cities over blatant inequalities between Little League boys' baseball and girls' softball in locally run programs. AB 2404 mandates gender equity in the allocation of field space, team scheduling, spending, promotion, coaching and a number of other factors modeled on Title IX regulations. Given the persistent cuts to school-day physical education classes, both boys and girls need quality community-based physical fitness opportunities more than ever before.
Parks and recreation departments are tax-funded centerpieces of our communities, and should be equally available to all. One survey found that, in the prior year, 98 percent of respondents visited a park or participated in a park program. Half of California households reported that a member of their household participated in a structured park program at least once. First Lady Michelle Obama's campaign, Let's Move, underscores the need for activities where kids lack school teams and cannot afford private club sports. We know that the parks and recreation system is vital, but we have yet to ensure its equal availability to boys and girls.
Of roughly 535 identified parks and recreation departments in California, only a handful are taking affirmative steps to implement AB 2404 by analyzing the gender balance in program and facility usage. Cities such as West Covina and Los Angeles are proactively assessing their departments to ensure that the quality of a child's parks and recreation experience does not turn on gender. Still, other localities must seek education and counsel to understand the law and how to comply. Though passed almost a decade ago, no suit has been brought under AB 2404, which remains virtually unregulated by government officials. As AB 2404 approaches its 10th anniversary, the need for greater enforcement is clear.
We recognize that the passage of Title IX and AB 2404 has yielded important results for girls. Yet as anniversaries come and go, they remind us we are still a long way from closing the gender gap in sports by delivering on promises of equality for all. This Girls and Women in Sports Day, look within and beyond your community and ask whether our schools and our parks are playing fair.
Kim Turner is the John and Terry Levin fellow for the Fair Play for Girls in Sports Project. Through litigation, education and policy work, Turner advocates for equality in athletic opportunities for female youth particularly in low-income communities based on Title IX and AB 2404. More information about Fair Play for Girls in Sports, part of the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center, Title IX and AB 2404 can be found here.
The Recorder welcomes submissions to Viewpoint. Contact Vitaly Gashpar at firstname.lastname@example.org.