The number of girls playing sports may be at an all-time high, but as Title IX prepares to turn 50 years old in 2022, research by the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF) reveals that girls today still have fewer high school participation opportunities than boys did when the landmark legislation was passed in 1972.
The report, titled, “50 Years of Title IX: We’re Not Done Yet,” found that nationwide there are currently 3.4 million participation opportunities for high school girls, falling short of the 3.6 million participation opportunities boys received in high school sports 50 years ago – and more than 1 million behind the 4.5 million opportunities for high school boys currently participating in sports(1). Numerous additional findings from the report highlight the need to accelerate the pace of change:
- Girls and women of color, those with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ athletes consistently receive less access to sport than their peers.
- Girls at high schools where the majority of students are Black and/or Hispanic have only 67 percent of the opportunities to play sports that their male peers have, compared to their counterparts at heavily white schools, who have 82 percent of the opportunities that boys do(2).
- And while women make up 44 percent of all NCAA athletes (compared to 15 percent in 1972)(3), only 14 percent of female NCAA athletes are BIPOC(4).
- In addition, of the more than 15,000 high school students who participate in adaptive sports, only 44 percent are female(5).
- In a recent study, 77.6% of LGBTQ students avoided school functions, 71.8% avoided extracurricular activities, and 25.15 avoided school athletic fields or facilities because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable(6).
- NCAA institutions across all divisions continue to offer higher rates of athletic opportunities to male athletes.
- 86 percent of NCAA institutions across all divisions offered higher rates of athletic opportunities to male athletes disproportionate to their enrollment, representing almost 60,000 missed opportunities for female athletes in the 2019-2020 year(7).
- Further, men received $252 million more in athletic scholarships than women(8).
- Many schools are not playing by the rules.
- In 2019, only 27 percent of U.S. women high school sport leaders and 44 percent of college sport leaders believed that institutions were compliant with Title IX(9)
“We should absolutely celebrate the fact that girls’ participation in high school sports is nearly 12x higher than it was when Title IX was passed, but we cannot rest on it,” said Billie Jean King, who founded WSF in 1974. “The mere existence of Title IX does not ensure equal opportunities unless it is enforced for everyone, particularly among girls and women of color, those with disabilities, and the LGBTQ+ community – where the gap is consistently the widest.”
While sport is often at the center of Title IX, its foundational intent is to protect against all gender-based discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funding, from elementary schools through the university level.
“When girls don’t get access to sport, it means they don’t get access to the countless benefits sports provide, from higher levels of self-esteem and lower levels of depression to critical workplace skills such as teamwork, goal-setting and the pursuit of excellence,” said Meghan Duggan, three-time Olympic medalist with the U.S. Women’s Hockey Team and WSF president.. “Sports are a microcosm of our society at large, so if girls and women are denied opportunities in sport, they are inherently being denied opportunities elsewhere.”
Available on the WSF website at WomensSportsFoundation.org, the full report includes extensive policy recommendations to ensure greater awareness, education, compliance and transparency around Title IX protections. Recognized as a valiant protector of Title IX, earlier this year WSF kicked off numerous initiatives to commemorate the legislation’s anniversary. With programming that includes a National Girls & Women in Sports Day, a virtual town hall series, and the Annual Salute to Women in Sports, the impact of this landmark law is being weaved into the Foundation’s activities throughout the year.
“Fifty years of Title IX and we are simply not done yet. The data makes it clear that the work of the Women’s Sports Foundation is more important than ever, particularly in engaging and keeping girls from already marginalized communities in the game,” said Danette Leighton, CEO of the Foundation, which by the 50th anniversary of Title IX will have invested over $100 million into impact programming to expand access and opportunities for girls and women in sport. “As we commemorate this important milestone, we must also acknowledge it as a stepping stone in our tireless work to educate younger generations on the importance of Title IX, and activate them in bringing its full promise to life. We can never take it for granted.”
Ahead of Title IX’s 50th Anniversary on June 23, 2022, WSF has joined the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative and National Women’s Law Center to form the Title IX Anniversary Coalition and launch ‘Demand IX’, a national campaign to bolster the law’s protections and enforcement. Galvanizing efforts across the country, the campaign encourages people to visit www.DemandIX.org to sign a pledge that will be shared with Congress, advocating for more robust application and activation of the landmark law.