The National Football League (NFL) boasts almost 1,700 players and, unsurprisingly, every player is male. Some professional sports in the United States have a women’s counterpart to the men’s program but they are often more humble in comparison in both financing and following. There are women’s professional football leagues, but they have nowhere near the visibility of the Women’s National Basketball Association or the National Women’s Soccer League. Professional football is still a world completely dominated by men, both on the bench and behind it- until 2015 when the NFL saw the first female coach in Jennifer Welter, hired for training camp and the preseason by the Arizona Cardinals. This was closely followed in 2016 by the first full-time coaching appointment of Kathryn Smith by the Buffalo Bills.
Both of these pioneers are products of a post-Title IX education, in which any education program or activity receiving federal funding could not discriminate “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”. In the 16,500 local school districts and 7,000 postsecondary institutions, this provides legal grounds for schools to provide the same academic and athletic opportunities to the young women they serve. In 1974, before Title IX into full effect (passed in 1972, full effect in 1978), just 300,000 women played sports in high school. Now, over 3 million women participate on the secondary level.
For most millennials, this Department of Education Amendment Title IX of 1972 was passed after our mothers were born. These women were the first wave of women to feel some of the effects of an education system that recognized their athletic potential as equal and the subsequent benefits of gender equality as a critical step forward. For this previous generation, as well as ours, this means marked improvement long term. Studies show that participation by young girls in athletics increases their chances of being employed full time by 1.3 % to 1.9 %. Title IX also increased the number of women taking college level courses by 3.5 %, increased their chances of getting a college degree by 2%, and has had a direct, positive relationship to women’s wages. Overall, Title IX is responsible for a 40% rise in employment of women between the ages of 25 and 34 since 1971. Studies have also found that as a direct product of Title IX, women who participated in sports had “a 7 percent lower risk of obesity 20 to 25 years later.” Lastly, a direct correlation has been drawn between participation in women’s athletics and “lower teen pregnancy rates, better grades and higher self- esteem”.
The benefits of women participating in athletics, felt both immediately and long term, are significant. Not only does The Department of Education’s Title IX Amendment provide an opportunity for equal participation and access to athletics, it is actively combating hundreds of years of gender and sex-based discrimination, working to close the gender pay gap, pushing women to further their education, and giving them a more confident start to life. Title IX has even infiltrated the most male-dominated professional athletic programs, like the NFL, dissolving limitations young girls have on their athletic aspirations.
This article was written by Erin Benton, a writer for dusk magazine.