The 40th anniversary of Title IX has come and gone. The year-long celebration in 2012 of the landmark law was definitely called for. Girls and women have made tremendous strides in this country as athletes since 1972.
But the battle for equal opportunity in sports is far from won. In fact, the situation is getting worse, not better.
Consider this sobering statistic: Since 2004, the gap in the number of sports participation opportunities between males and females has expanded, not decreased. More athletics opportunities have been created for males than females in recent years.
"There are millions of more girls participating in sports today than there were 40 years ago," says Donna Lopiano, president of Sports Management Resources and former CEO of the Women's Sports Foundation. "But I thought we'd be further along on this issue. Men's sports are growing faster than women's the last five or six years in terms of opportunities.
The reality is, as a country, we've grown lax in our enforcement of Title IX. We need to be much more vigilant. Title IX isn't just a winner for girls and women. It's a winner for a free, just and equitable society.
What we really need is more people like Herb Dempsey. Dempsey is a 75-year-old retiree from Washington state. He's also one of Title IX's staunchest supporters. In fact, he has made Title IX enforcement a second career of sorts. He regularly files Title IX complaints with the Office of Civil Rights when he sees girls getting the short end of the stick when it comes to sports opportunities. Dempsey's a true pit bull when it comes to seeking justice on our playing fields.
"When you use my tax money to enforce your bias, and when your bias is a sexist pig's bias, then you and I are going to a barbecue pit!" says Dempsey.
You go, Herb!
Dempsey has had his share of victories, one of them just recently. In May 2012, he filed a complaint against Washington D.C. schools, charging that the schools' sports programs systematically discriminated against girls in violation of Title IX law. D.C. school officials agreed to a settlement a few weeks ago, saying that girls will now be given the same opportunity to play sports as boys.
"When it comes to Title IX, schools in D.C. are about as bad as I'd ever care to see," according to Dempsey. "This is a signpost to the future. Ultimately, I'm hoping that a girl born in Washington D.C. will no longer have to pay a price for being treated like a second-class citizen."
Dempsey is living proof that activist citizens in the sports realm can make a difference.
Title IX opponents raise several arguments. One of them is that girls and women just don't have the same interest in sports as boys and men.
As Valerie Bonnette, a Title IX consultant points out, "Women aren't born less interested in sports. Society conditions them."
A federal district court put it this way: "Title IX was enacted in order to remedy discrimination that results from stereotyped notions of women's interests and abilities. Interest and ability rarely develop in a vacuum; they evolve as a function of opportunity and experience."
Other Title IX antagonists believe that football should be given an exemption from Title IX because it's a revenue sport and it requires so many players.
The football machine is certainly a problem when it comes to equal opportunity in sports. It not only hurts girls and women's sports, it also hurts boys and men in so-called "minor" sports.
High schools and colleges continue to pump money into football, at the expense of both genders.
Putting huge amounts of money into football and men's basketball on college campuses not only increases the likelihood that the institution's athletic department won't meet gender equity requirements, it also increases the chances that men's "minor" sports will be dropped. The biggest enemy of men's minor sports are football and men's basketball, not Title IX.
"Only by capping these spiraling costs (for football and men's basketball) will institutions be able to grow women's sports programs to comply with Title IX while maintaining existing participation opportunities for men," says a National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education report.
A key point to consider is that decisions to drop certain sports (male or female) reflect institutional priorities, not a Title IX mandate. The responsibility of the federal government, through Title IX, is to ensure equal opportunity, not to ensure that particular sports teams are added, dropped, or maintained. It's university athletic directors -- and their presidents -- that decide to drop $450,000-a-year sports like wrestling in order to add an artificial turf practice field for the football team. It's these same administrators who give 85 scholarships to college football programs when NFL teams can get by with 53 players.
As former University of Arizona President Peter Likins (a wrestler in college), said, "We have, as a national society, decided that we prefer to allocate the fair distribution of opportunities for male athletes in a peculiar way, assigning very large numbers of these opportunities to one sport (football) and correspondingly contracting the number of men's sports we can sponsor ..."
The Women's Sports Foundation has summarized the situation beautifully: "Title IX is a good law. We need to keep steady on the course of ensuring that our sons and daughters are treated equally in all educational programs and activities, including sports. We also have to protect sports participation opportunities for our sons by making it clear to high school principals and superintendents as well as college presidents that excessive expenditures for one or two priority men's sports and failure to control spending in all sports is unacceptable for educational institutions accorded non profit tax status."
Meanwhile, Dempsey continues to fight the good fight. He's filed another Title IX complaint on behalf of female student athletes with the Office of Civil Rights. This one in Colonial Beach, Virginia, where he says the boys' baseball fields have bright lights at nighttime while the girls' softball fields sit in the dark at dusk.
Godspeed Mr. Dempsey.