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Title IX: Why So Many More Women and Girls Play and Win at Sports

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Posted Mondays, the Laws That Shaped L.A. spotlights regulations that have played a significant role in the development of contemporary Los Angeles. These laws -- as nominated and explained each week by a locally-based expert -- may be civil or criminal, and they may have been put into practice by city, county, state, federal or even international authority

This Week's Law That Shaped L.A.

Law: Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972
Know as: Title IX
Year: 1972
Jurisdiction: Federal
Commented on by: Olga Connolly


Olga Connolly just needed to change.

As it happens, so too did the United States.

Connolly is the five-time Olympic athlete whose extraordinary Prague to Santa Monica Arrival Story - by way of Melbourne and Vladivostok - was chronicled recently here in these pages.

But no matter how many championships Connolly won during her long and celebrated discus career; no matter how famous she further became thanks to her celebrated Cold War romance with American hammer thrower Harold Conolly; no matter that she appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and was given a kiss on the cheek by Louis Armstrong; no matter any of that, even at the apex of her global athletic renown, Connolly rarely had access to even a bare-bones women's locker room.

"How many track meets did myself and other women compete at where the only place to change clothes was a woman's public restroom and the place to rest before the event was a kindly tree shade?" Connolly says -- and keep in mind that this is not someone given to idle complaint.

Connolly's final Olympic appearance came in 1972, at the Mexico City Games. That same year, in Washington D.C., legislators passed a bill designed to force educational institutions that accept federal money -- most do, in one way or another -- to not discriminate by sex.

The resulting legislation, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, is universally known as "Title IX." The law reads, in part: "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 education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."

While Title IX was and continues to be enormously relevant to a wide range of arenas, throughout popular culture, Title IX has become synonymous with the rise of girls and women in sports.

The celebrated changes during the forty years since Title IX are legion. Two oft-repeated recent examples: The 2012 U.S. Olympic team was the nation's first to include more female than male athletes; and each of the 204 nations participating in the London Games brought at least one female athlete -- another first.

Billie Jean King -- the tennis legend raised in Long Beach who vanquished chauvinism and Bobby Riggs -- writes on a federal government website that there has been a 1,000% increase in girls playing high school sports since Title IX.

King also links the rise in numbers of women attending college to Title IX and says that more than four out of five female business executives played sports.

Ann Meyers, playing for UCLA. Photo from the Herald-Examiner Collection and courtesy the Los Angeles Public Library
Ann Meyers, playing for UCLA. Photo from the Herald-Examiner Collection and courtesy the Los Angeles Public Library

Basketball superstar Ann Meyers Drysdale told the L.A. Times in a recent interview that she would not have been able to afford to attend UCLA without the scholarship that Title IX allowed. Meyers -- as highlighted in this special Title IX section of the UCLA Athletics website -- was the first female Bruin to ever to receive an athletic scholarship.

That site also brags -- and deservedly so -- that UCLA women's teams have won forty national championships during the forty years since Title IX. "[The Law's] impact over the last 40 years has been profound from coast-to-coast," the site's text reads, "but perhaps it has been most noticeable at a progressive state university located just miles from the Pacific Ocean -- UCLA.*"

Variations of that anecdote can be repeated at universities across Los Angeles, throughout Southern California and around the country. USC's* women's teams have won 23 national championships since Title IX. During the same period, USC athletes in non-team sports (track and field, swimming, etc.) have added another 64 national titles.

Critics of Title IX, such as there are, sometimes cite a negative perceived impact on men's sports -- the elimination of men's wrestling programs seems to be one persistent beef. The NCAA -- the often-embattled college sports governing body -- stresses that Title IX aims to have equal participation.

"The law requires male and female student-athletes to receive athletics scholarship aid proportional to their participation opportunities," reads text on the NCAA website. "But it does not require equal dollars to be spent on men's and women's sports. It also requires equitable treatment..."

The NCAA site says that during the past thirty years -- that's when the organization began overseeing women's sports as well as men's -- the number of women on college teams rose from 74,000 to more than 186,000. The number of men playing increased from about 170,000 to about 249,000.


When Olga Connolly first came to Los Angeles [Read her Arrival Story here], she and her then-husband Harold Connolly were each invited to the Coliseum Relays, a once popular but now defunct track and field meet.

"He was competing and I was offered an exhibition," Connolly says. "There were not a lot of women who were throwing the discus."

That wouldn't be a problem today. Consider Meyers Drysdale for a moment. The college and Olympic hoopster extraordinaire received a mid-1970s tryout with an NBA team, the Indiana Pacers. This was many years before the WNBA formed.

Today, same as UCLA, that women's pro hoops league's website features a special Title IX section. The league clearly considers the law to be an existential one -- after all, it's not like the WNBA site contains grand paens to, say, the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Act of 1969. Or the Laws of The Indies.

And on a related note, it's not too often that leading apparel companies design and vend tee-shirts that hype pieces of legislation -- as Adidas does for Title IX, as noted here by the hip hop hoops pub, Slam.

Continuing along the special web section thread here -- ESPNW has devoted significant editorial resources to the fortieth anniversary of Title IX. That section -- available here -- includes among other content at least a pair of typically great articles by Steve Wulff.

In one of Wulff's ESPNW pieces, he revisits the early famous Title IX story of the Yale University women's rowing team.

The short version of the story -- shades of Olga Connolly pointing out that she had nowhere to change -- is that while the Yale male crew team had access to hot showers post-practice, the female rowers did not.

So, sitting and waiting, soaked from sweat, post-practice in freezing New England winters, the female rowers would get sick. They were promised boathouse locker room renovations that never took place. So, fed up, the rowers packed into an athletic administrator's office, stripped, and with "Title IX" written on their bodies, listed their complaints. A student stringer wrote up the story for the New York Times. Not long after, the showers were upgraded. Wulff's piece incudes ecstatic thank-you's from generations of athletes that followed.


"I'm very happy by all the changes," Olga Connolly says. She's speaking generally about the changes Title IX has brought.

Connolly says that as young women and young men walk by her, heading from their cardiovascular equipment and free weight work-outs towards the locker rooms at the University of California, Irvine, where Connolly works as a personal trainer.

When UCI first started fielding sports teams, in the mid-`60s, all seven of the squads were for men. Today, there are eighteen such teams -- nine male, nine female.

A symphony of sneakers squeaking from the gymnasium down the hall serves as background music to a recent conversation with Connolly. A peak into the gym shows one woman rattling home a fifteen-foot jumper in a pick-up game featuring one other woman and a handful of men.

Olga Connolly, at the beach with a discus, 2012. Photo courtesy Olga Connolly
Olga Connolly, at the beach with a discus, 2012. Photo courtesy Olga Connolly

This scene happens to be taking place in Orange County, but it could be -- and is -- taking place nearly anywhere, on college campuses, in public high schools, and given the spread of ideas, in private settings as well.

Before and just after Title IX's passage, Connolly says she regularly gave coaching clinics to teachers - her attempt to help put an athletics educational infrastructure in place.

Today, Connolly believes that Title IX's job is far from done. She now sees a necessity for more than just training and gender equality.

Connolly connects Title IX's possibilities to a larger societal woe - obesity and inactivity and the urgent need for schools to feature physical education again. "[This is] a subject equal to the importance of the '3Rs'," Connolly says.

Regular readers of the Laws That Shaped LA know that we have a house rule -- Olympic champions always get the last word. We end this week with more Connolly:

"The Title IX law... says that there must be no discrimination in schools, be it athletic or academic," she says. "So, let's go back to the golden era of Greece and education of human beings by instructing in arts, athletics and academics, as all those are important parts of human potential development. In that, in my opinion, the regulatory leadership of Title IX is not yet completed."

To suggest a "Law That Shaped L.A." or otherwise contact the columnist via: arrivalstory [at] gmail [dot] com, or leave a comment at the bottom of this page. Follow Rosenberg on Twitter @losjeremy

*Jeremy Rosenberg works at USC and has written for UCLA.

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