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Rep. Louise Slaughter

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After the Olympics: Helping Our Future Olympic Stars

Posted: 08/15/2012 11:04 am

Now that London Olympic Games have drawn to a close, we can step back and marvel at the success of our American women in these games. For the first time ever, the United States sent more female athletes to the games than male. On the flight home, women wore 29 out of the 46 gold medals won by Americans, and looking beyond our shores, this was the first Olympics in which a female athlete joined the team of every country to attend the Olympic games.

These achievements are a remarkable change from decades past, and a testament to the progress that has been made in the fight for women's equality. Title IX, the landmark legislation that outlawed discrimination in federally funded education programs -- including sports -- was enacted in 1972. Looking back to the Olympic Games that occurred that same year, we can see just how far we have come.

  • In 1972, there was no women's basketball event at the Olympics. In 2012, the U.S. women's basketball team won their 5th consecutive gold medal -- something that has never been done by any team in the history of the Olympics.
  • In 1972, there was no women's soccer event. In 2012, the U.S. women's soccer team won their 3rd consecutive gold medal.
  • In 1972, women's water polo, women's rowing, women's cycling, women's boxing and women's judo did not exist. In 2012, U.S. women won gold in all of these events.

Yet, despite our incredible progress over the years, we still have more work to do. Although our female Olympians broke through new barriers, future generations of American women are facing declining athletic opportunity. As I write, high school girls currently receive 1.3 million fewer opportunities to play sports than high school boys, and this gap is increasing.

The problem stems from a lack of transparency and accountability in our high schools. Thanks to Title IX, colleges and universities must report basic information about the funding of athletic programs for men and women and the participation of men in women throughout these sports. Due in part to this public information, American women have unrivaled opportunity at the collegiate level.

Since enactment of Title IX, the number of women competing in college sports has soared by more than 600 percent. In addition, I've met with countless Olympic gold medalists who have told me that Title IX, and the accompanying athletic scholarships it made possible, was the reason they were able to attend college and pursue their dreams.

These Olympians have emphasized that the benefits of sports participation are not limited to their achievements on the field. Statistics have shown that young women thrive when they participate in sports and are less likely to get pregnant, drop out of school, do drugs, smoke, or develop mental illness. Increasing young students' physical activity can also help combat childhood obesity, which is at an all-time high.

Unfortunately, the basic actions required of our universities are not required of our high schools. As a result, we are seeing fewer and fewer high schools realize full equality for male and female athletes, and more young women being denied the opportunity to realize their full potential both on and off the field.

To address this problem, I have authored the High School Athletics Accountability Act, which would require that high schools meet the same standards as universities when it comes to reporting basic data on gender equality in sports. This would be an easy change for our high schools to make. Some states such as Pennsylvania have begun to require this information from their high schools. States who already report this information tell us that it usually takes just 3-6 hours of one person's time to complete each year.

Over the last few weeks, I've watched with pride as young Olympic stars from my hometown of Rochester, NY have brought home Olympic glory. From Abby Wambach in soccer, to Jenn Suhr in the pole vault, Ryan Lochte in swimming, and Megan Musnicki and Henrik Rummel in rowing, Rochester's young men and women reached incredible heights and realized their life-long dreams of competing, and medaling, in the Olympic games.

If we are to give the same opportunities to future Olympians, we must act today. We must provide our nation's young women with full and equal opportunities for success, and ensure that these aspiring young athletes have a chance to live the Olympic dream and bring home the gold.

 

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