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Title IX at 40: Most schools still aren't in compliance

Four decades after Title IX went into place, enormous progress for women and girls has been made. But most schools in America are still not providing men and women with equal opportunities to participate and equal treatment in athletics. There's work to be done.

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Why? Some people point to football, claiming it makes money. But the claim is false – the overwhelming majority of schools lose money on football. And it could not justify sex discrimination even if it were true. Schools can’t discriminate against women to make money. Yet many keep spending more and more on football, shortchange or cut other men’s teams in the process, and then try to scapegoat Title IX.

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Expenditure differences alone, to be clear, do not necessarily constitute a violation of Title IX. For example, uniforms for some sports cost more than uniforms for other sports. As long as men and women, overall, are being provided with uniforms of equal caliber, Title IX is satisfied.

But those are not the sorts of differences the expenditure differences above reflect. And when many male athletes (usually football and basketball players) are receiving exceptional treatment, while only a small number of female athletes (usually basketball players, if any) are receiving similar treatment, the school is probably violating Title IX.

Most schools are not providing men and women with equal opportunities to participate and equal treatment in athletics because most educational administrators are not sufficiently dedicated to achieving equality. 

The federal government has never brought a single enforcement action against a school for violating Title IX. Most coaches, parents, and students don’t know their rights. So lawsuits are not filed unless schools do something egregious enough to get girls and women angry, like cancel an active women’s team. Then females sue – and they win.

What these women are winning – and what’s at stake – is not just simple fairness, as important as that is. Research shows that girls who play high school sports are 20 percent more likely to graduate and 20 percent more likely to attend college.

Girls and women who participate in athletics have increased cardiovascular conditioning; are less likely to smoke; have a reduced risk of a wide variety of health problems, including estrogen-related cancers, obesity, dementia, depression, and suicide. On the flip side, they have increased emotional and psychological well-being, self-esteem, and self-reported quality of life.

When they gain that, the boys and men in their lives – and all of us – benefit, too.

Title IX’s 40th anniversary deserves celebration. But four decades after Title IX was enacted, millions of females are still being deprived of the equality and benefits it requires. School administrators, the federal government, coaches, parents, and students need to make sure that inequality ends – and that all schools in the country are complying with Title IX. Then we can have the grand celebration this historic law against sex discrimination truly deserves. 

Arthur H. Bryant is the executive director of Public Justice, a national public interest law firm that has successfully represented more women intercollegiate athletes and potential athletes in Title IX litigation than any organization in the country.


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