06/22/2012 09:28 am ET Updated Aug 22, 2012

Happy 40th Birthday Title IX

Happy Birthday Title IX! You will be 40 years old on June 23. Blow out the candles for the law that threw open the doors in gymnasiums and changed the playing fields in every high school, college and university in America to include women and girls.

I can attest from personal experience that before Title IX became law in 1972, girls' opportunities to participate in sports were rare. Today, when I ask a classroom of female students, "How many of you played sports in high school or college?" almost every hand goes up. Thanks to title IX, millions of women ad girls can enjoy sports the same way that boys do, learning good sportsmanship, team work and how to win and lose.

How did this law come about? The answer is by accident. Bernice Sandler, known as the godmother of Title IX, told me that the intent was to get rid of quotas, which limited the number of women admitted to colleges and universities. Nobody knew at the time what effect the law would have on women's participation in sports.

Women's groups were eager to lobby for the bill's passage, but Sandler recalled that Democratic Congresswoman Edith Green advised them not to. "Don't do any lobbying," she said "because people will ask questions and then they will find out what the bill will really do."

College athletic directors soon found out what the new law did do. In no time, equal athletic facilities had to be provided for women -- additional tennis courts, coaches and all kinds of equipment. With a stroke of a pen, the world of high school and college sports had vastly expanded. Expenditures for sports now had to be proportionate to women and men's enrollment.

Not everyone was pleased. Football coaches took particular umbrage. They believed that the cost of women's sports drained money away from football. They pleaded for lenience.

In some cases, they succeeded because of lax enforcement.

Not a perfect law. But by and large it worked. We often wonder whether laws can change the culture, or do we have to wait for the culture to change before we enact a new law?

Before Title IX, the assumption was that girls weren't as interested in sports as boys were. In fact, some thought it might not even be good for them to get out on the field; they might get hurt.

Now, whenever I see a girls team play any sport, basketball, tennis, soccer -- you name it -- and watch their friends and parents wildly cheering them on, I know that it was Title IX that made this thrilling scene possible.