Around the country other frustrated, underfunded and unappreciated female athletes were dreaming, too. Countless more girls were confined to sandlots and backyard hoops, banned from youth leagues and varsities. They weren't aware of it yet, but legislation that would make so many of their reveries real was already law.
First proposed by Oregon representative Edith Green and educator Bernice Sandler as a way to expand opportunities in higher education for women, the statute known as Title IX had been drafted and introduced by Hawaii representative Patsy Mink, championed by Indiana senator Birch Bayh and signed into law by President Richard Nixon on June 23, 1972. The 37 words that form the basis of the legislation, part of the Education Amendments of 1972, read, "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."
While the effect on opportunities in education has been profound—the number of law and medical degrees going to women has jumped from 7% and 9%, respectively, in 1972 to 47% and 48% in 2010—the athletic gains have been seismic. According to a report provided by the Women's Sports Foundation, 294,015 girls competed in high schools four decades ago. By last year the number had ballooned to 3,173,549, and it's growing.
Still, there's work to do. Opportunities in high school have increased for both girls and boys, but girls have 1.3 million fewer chances to play. Many coaching jobs that once went to women are now claimed by men. Inequities in resources, and resistance to equal access for women, persist. But the benefits of Title IX, to women and to society, are almost incalculable. Girls who compete in sports get better grades, graduate at higher rates and have more confidence. The vast majority avoid unplanned pregnancies, drugs, obesity, depression and suicide. Two generations of female athletes—who once could venture no closer than the sideline—have felt the adrenaline rush of competition, learned the value of teamwork, pushed themselves to their physical limits, then coped with the consequences of victory and defeat. They have earned recognition, received scholarships, inspired celebration—even, yes, been drafted and made a living from their talent.
Forty years of Title IX have produced thrilling moments in myriad sports, some small and personal and some, as the following pages show, socially transforming.
Because of 37 words, millions of dreams have become reality. There's still room for millions more.