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Why Title IX Should Not Make the Cut

by CookeeMo

Some might argue no single piece of legislation has done more to advance women’s athletics specifically than Title IX, part of the Education Amendments of 1972. Indeed, since the passage of Title IX, women have been allowed great opportunities they were once denied, both in athletics and in education. But, under Title IX, women are also exposed to unnecessary health risks, and women have seen little improvement in actual equality in athletics. Moreover, Title IX may be causing undue harm to men’s athletic programs. Title IX has done some good for high school and college athletics, but it should be scaled back in favor of legislation or enforcement that will better suit women’s and men’s needs.

Title IX was approved as an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 eight years after the original Act became law. Although it is worded to apply to all areas of federally funded education – “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, or denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal assistance,” Title IX is most often thought of in terms of school athletic programs, where it has arguably had the most impact (Sadker 2004). Schools receiving federal funding must provide proportionally equal participation opportunities for female and male athletes.

Nikki Katz, an internet columnist on women’s issues, cites multiple statistical examples of advancements in women’s equality under Title IX. Comparing percentages from the early 1970’s to percentages from the 1990’s, she shows more women take higher level high school math courses, attend and graduate from college after high school, participate in high school and college athletics, and receive graduate degrees in recent years (2005). Women have apparently been given and have taken advantage of more opportunities in sports and education since the passage of Title IX. Furthermore, Richard E. Lapchick of Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society asserts a strong women’s athletic program strengthens overall athletic programs, communities, and college campuses in general by generating an environment of respect for women (“We All Benefit…”).

While above evidence suggests women have made great strides toward equality since the 1970’s and that they are continuing to move forward, one cannot necessarily infer a causal relationship between these advancements and Title IX. American society has grown more inclusive of women and minorities in general. One must ask himself whether this trend would have occurred without such specific legislative force. Likely, under the influence of minority rights legislation, society eventually would have begun to recognize a need for reform in gender relations. Maybe Title IX simply sped an inevitable process.

With the speedy advances in women’s athletics that have occurred since the passage of Title IX have come increased health risks to female athletes. The average female athlete’s physique is much different from that of her average male counterpart. She has less muscle compared with body fat than he, and she is generally not as strong. He has a greater lung capacity. She is also psychologically different. She, more than he, is prone to eating disorders, which affect bone make-up and overall stamina. Intense athletic competition combined with a female’s natural physical and psychological differences has the potential to lead to more frequent and more severe injuries than are encountered in men’s sports. Females involved in stringent exercise are also more likely than other females to experience one of several menstrual disorders. (Holschen 2004)

The 1980’s saw an increase in rates of women’s injuries. If women’s athletics had been allowed to progress naturally, without the prodding of Title IX, that statistic may have been different. Holschen contends many injuries to the female athlete can be avoided with proper equipment, training, and conditioning (2004). Title IX forces federally funded athletic programs to increase women’s opportunities before coaches and staff can be educated on how to train female athletes for minimal injuries.

A second strike against Title IX is its apparent inability to promote general equality for women. Title IX, coupled with the more direct Title VII of the same Act, is supposed to increase women’s equality in many aspects of American life, not just in school sports participation. Above the level of teams and players, however, sports programs have not seen much increase in gender equality since the passage of Title IX. Warren A. Whisenant of the Department of Health and Human Performance at the University of Houston reports on a study that found “that 87% of the athletic administrators at the local and state levels were men.” In fact, the study cites for comparison 1997 U.S. Department of Labor statistics that forty percent of business managers were women, and women filled only three to five percent of “top executive positions.” (2003, 182) The new athletic opportunities Title IX has given high school and college aged women have diverted much-needed attention from ensuring career equality for female graduates.

Besides increasing health risks and not adequately addressing problems with women’s equality in sports, Title IX may actually be having a negative effect on men’s athletics, although a wide range of studies on the subject have found conflicting conclusions. To comply with the law, federally funded programs are often required to introduce new opportunities for women, a costly measure that can force low-budget programs to eliminate preexisting men’s opportunities. Furthermore, Title IX does not take interest in sports into account. For example, a campus with forty percent females must offer a similar proportion of athletic positions to females even if twenty percent of male students want to participate and only ten percent of female students are interested in participating in sports. In that case, a disproportionate number of interested males are denied opportunities.

For the reasons listed above, Title IX, as it is, should be scaled back. The government should turn toward legislation and/or enforcement that accomplishes better the original goal of Title IX: improving women’s equality in sports and in general.

Legislators should begin to look into better ways of regulating men’s and women’s athletics to minimize injuries. Perhaps sports programs should be required to conduct investigations into any injury of a certain level of severity, and they should be asked to report scientifically supported findings of causes and possible preventions. While many injuries would prove purely accidental and unavoidable, others would serve to expose areas for improvement within the program. These reports should be published and distributed periodically so programs will have opportunities to learn from other programs’ errors or oversights. Publishing also adds an embarrassment factor, which creates a strong incentive for injury prevention.

Government focus should turn toward increasing women’s opportunities in athletic and other jobs, not just on athletic teams. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits job discrimination on the basis of gender, but Title IX has taken attention off Title VII’s important goal. According to an article in The NCAA News, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights was asked to spend a vastly disproportionate amount of its time focusing on gender equality in athletics, an issue making up only two percent of complaints to the Office (Bonnette 2003). Current enforcement of Title IX’s athletics policies should be scaled back, and enforcement should focus more on other aspects of equality in education and on equality in job opportunities as provided in Title VII. If women are assured education comparable to men’s education, women will be prepared to fill the executive positions offered to them when Title VII is properly enforced.

Finally, officials should look for methods of maximizing fairness between men’s and women’s athletic programs. Finding a solution to this issue, like the last, is difficult. In 2003, the Bush administration appointed a commission for increasing fairness of Title IX enforcement. The Department of Education made changes to Title IX enforcement policies as a result of the commission’s recommendations, but according to members of the Department, the changes still require athletic programs without proportional opportunities either to show growth in their women’s programs or “fully and effectively” to satisfy women’s desires to participate (Archibald 2003). These executive changes to Title IX do not ensure low-budget programs will not have to build women’s teams at the expense of men’s teams. Title IX should be scaled back in favor of enforcement practices or new legislation that allows preexisting men’s programs to go unchanged until women’s programs can be built. Perhaps schools should stop growth of men’s programs until they provide ample women’s opportunities, but they should not feel forced to eliminate existing men’s programs in order to create a balance more quickly than their budgets allow.

Title IX, as it is currently enforced, has inspired some good principles of equality in high school and college sports, but it should be scaled back. It creates health risks for women, fails to generate trickle-up equality, and may cause slighting of men’s sports programs. Although Title IX has accelerated women’s advancements in sports, women will not see genuine progress until they are given opportunities to achieve more than positions on teams.

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