By Adrian Garcia and Elena Sarmiento
Television and sports reporters across America extolled the 1996 Summer Olympics as the Olympics in which American women dominated. The American women's gymnastics, soccer and softball teams all won gold medals. Amy Van Dyken won four gold medals in swimming, the most gold medals any American woman has won at an Olympics, and the volleyball team excited new interest in that game. Today, one can't help but notice that the sports page regularly carries news about national and local women's sports. Television stations post scores for girls teams as well as those for the boys. But it wasn't always that way.
Women and girls have not always enjoyed the opportunity to participate in sports teams while attending school. In an attempt to assure equality between the sexes, Congress passed Title IX of the Education Amendment in 1972. The major provision of Title IX was that no person would be denied access to participation based on sex in any educational program receiving federal financial assistance.
Most schools, even some private ones, receive federal assistance, so that meant all physical education and sports programs had to comply.
Twenty-five years later, the effects of this law are emerging. Some progress toward equality in participation has been made, particularly in the area of intercollegiate sports opportunities for women and more equity in school sports budgets. But not everyone supports the law. It has taken lawsuits against violations of the law across the country to make women's sports visible throughout the U.S.
A landmark lawsuit was filed against Brown University in April 1993 by nine female athletes for failure to provide sufficient opportunities for sports participation. A lawyer for the school argued that there was more interest in men's sports than women's. He also argued that there was more participation from men than women in sports. The court ruled that the University reinstate the women's gymnastic and volleyball teams to full varsity status.
Brown University appealed, which resulted in the first appellate-court decision to apply federal sex-discrimination laws to college sports. Judge Bruce Selya upheld the lower court's decision ordering Brown University to reinstate the teams. In April 1997, the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court which upheld the appellate court's decision and rejected Brown's position that it was not discriminating, but merely reflecting the difference in interest in men's and women's sports. This ruling will influence schools all over the country who have either ignored or defied Title IX guidelines.
Title IX complaints have also been filed at the high school level. Nancy Williams, New Jersey Shore Regional High School girls' softball and field hockey coach. filed a complaint in August of 1996. Her complaint was against the West Long Branch Board of Education for voting not to rehire her despite having a winning record. Williams also complained about the inequalities in the girls' sports programs at the school. Female athletes were not provided with the same number of coaches, equipment and locker rooms that the boys had. The school did not videotape girls' sports, provide cheerleaders, concession stands or bands for their events. These complaints caused the school to be investigated by the federal Department of Education. The school was found guilty of discriminating against female athletes, and a settlement was reached with the Department of Education to give girls' sports more attention, support and funding, and salaries of the coaches for the girls were to be equal to those of the boys' coaches.
Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, participation in college women's sports has increased. According to N.C.A.A. statistics, the total number of female athletes increased by 25 percent in the first 20 years, and between 1992 and 1996, at least 800 women's teams have been added at the collegiate level. Locally, women are enjoying participating in teams that did not exist in the 1970s. The University of Texas at El Paso offers women's teams in basketball, volleyball, track and field, tennis, soccer and golf, with swimming and softball to be added soon.
Every district in the El Paso area supports women's teams in high school volleyball, basketball, tennis, golf and field and track. Swimming and softball are available in the El Paso, Ysleta and Socorro districts, and Ysleta also supports a women's gymnastics team.
El Paso Community College has recently added sports to its programs. The men's baseball team was quickly followed by the women's softball team, the Tejanas. Celina Estrada, the starting shortstop, said in an interview, "College softball is different from high school softball because it is more competitive." And Tejana player Edna Garcia adds, "All they [women] need is dedication and love for the sport."
Although women have welcomed the new opportunities to participate in sports, not everyone is happy. Finding the funding for each of the sports for both boys and girls is not easy. Budgets may have to be cut from one area in order to accommodate another. Football has always been the number one moneymaking sport at colleges and universities. Coaches and administrators argue that taking money away would be crippling to the sport. "You can't bite the hand that feeds you," says Michigan State football coach George Perles.
But colleges are finding money to support women's sports by reducing spending in other men's sports, sometimes eliminating them outright. For instance, in light of the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Michigan State will reduce funding for men's fencing and lacrosse in order to add women's rowing and remain in compliance with Title IX. Since 1972, 256 colleges have dropped wrestling. Schools would rather do away with low-profile sports than touch football. Other men's sports being cut include field hockey and water polo.
Just as racial attitudes could not be changed by legislation overnight, neither can discriminatory attitudes toward women in sports be reversed quickly. Attitude changes have been slow in coming. At the beginning of the 2Oth century, sports were considered for men only, and women were called "unnatural" and "unladylike" if they showed the slightest interest in participating in sports. According to the New York Times, running was the first sport for women that society finally accepted. But women were not considered physiologically capable of long-distance running. Some believed that a woman who attempted this would not be able to bear children because her uterus might fall out, that she could grow a mustache or that she wanted to be a man.
Today these beliefs appear ridiculous, and this generation's women are stronger and healthier than ever before. Women from all ethnic backgrounds are succeeding in high school, college, professional and Olympic sports. And fans are responding. In February this year, members of the 1996 U.S. Olympic gold medal gymnastics team drew a huge crowd at UTEP's Special Event Center.
This summer, a new women's professional basketball league, the WNBA (Women's National Basketball Association), is scheduled to play its first game on June 21. This new league will consist of eight teams which are located in cities with NBA franchises. Games will be played in the arenas where men's professional teams play. Included among the players are Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes and Rebecca Lobo, members of the 1996 U.S. Olympic basketball team who won the gold in Atlanta.
Whether by lawsuit or common sense, Title IX is helping schools to open the doors of sports to girls and women in the United States.