Title IX’s New Watershed Moment for Women in Sports

katie-ledecky-tyr 2 - Title IX

Title IX’s New Watershed Moment for Women in Sports

By Gigi Picard Swimming World College Intern

On June 23rd, 1972, a law famously known as Title IX went into effect, prohibiting sex discrimination in any educational institution receiving federal funding. From an athletics point of view, the intent of the law was to extend equal opportunity to women in every aspect of sport. Specifically, that meant that, by law, women and men would have equal opportunities to participate in athletics, to receive athletic scholarships and to be provided coaching, equipment and supplies necessary to perform successfully.   

But, the signing of Title IX did not eliminate all of the problems women in sports faced. People have a tendency to say “sports” and “women’s sports” as if women’s sports shouldn’t be taken seriously – as if “real sports” are male, and women’s sports are some lightweight, subcategory of athletic performance. Sports networks have, from that day to this, labeled them that way on their websites and sports apps.    

The raw truth of inequality was exposed with one searing image from the current national collegiate basketball championships. Female athletes and their supporters were dumbfounded when a picture of the workout facility for the 32-team women’s second round in San Antonio surfaced. These elite women athletes were offered one rack of lightweight dumbbells and six crusty yoga mats on a creaky folding table in an otherwise eerily empty gymnasium.

Stanford sports performance coach Ali Kerschner exposed the differences between this alarming caricature and with the men’s workout rooms at their March Madness tournaments For those who have not heard, the men had an enormous workout space with several half racks, jump ropes, plates, yoga mats, benches, pullup bars, bikes and a treadmill. Oregon women’s basketball forward Sedona Prince posted a TikTok of the entire women’s workout facility being emptier than my dorm room. Only after the outrage spread did the NCAA decide to significantly upgrade the workout space and open investigations related to this clear Title IX violation.

But, let’s face it, this was not a mistake on the part of the NCAA. This was deliberate. Choiceful. Someone decided that this was appropriate, betraying a continuing, deep prejudice about the status of women in sports. After all, the real March Madness was happening among the men’s teams in Indianapolis, right?

Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer put it clearly: “A lot of what we’ve all seen this week is evidence of blatant sexism. This is purposeful and hurtful…Women athletes and coaches are done waiting, not just for upgrades of a weight room, but for equity in every facet of life.” Yes, women are still seen as delicate flowers meant for the kitchen and not for the athletic arena. 

Katie Ledecky is arguably the best swimmer in the world right now. Since bursting on the swim scene in London in 2012, she has crushed her competition at every single meet, invitational, Olympic event. Yes, it is true that the fastest male swimmers in Ledecky’s events have posted times that are faster than hers. But no one has been better in the pool over the last decade. And no one has worked harder, been tougher or more competitive.. But she doesn’t swim like a man, she swims like Katie Ledecky – as Rowdy Gaines, a father of daughters, has said. In every way, she is the equal of any male swimmer. And she is just the most well-known performer among many other women in athletics today, as she would be the first to tell you. 

VanDerveer also mentioned that coaches are tired of waiting. The Tucker Center gave swimming an “F” on their report card because the sport has only 35 female college head coaches compared to 161 male coaches in Division I alone. There are some very talented female coaches out there who are looking for every opportunity they can to be coaches. 

So enough is enough. The image of those dumbbells and sanitized yoga mats will be forever burned into my mind as a reminder just how far society still has to go in its vision of women athletes and its embrace of simple equality. The fact that these facilities were not just endorsed by, but set up by the NCAA is especially troubling. But, on the bright side, maybe this is actually a watershed moment for women in sports. The coverage of the women’s basketball tournament picked up noticeably in the past couple of weeks, allowing millions to see how competitive and skilled and tough the women really are. Maybe this is a moment when women athletes get more than equal equipment. They get equal respect.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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Steve H
1 year ago

Sadly equal opportunity for males that participate in football. Salute to all male swimmers that have had their programs cut.

1 year ago
Reply to  Steve H

Absolutely agree with that comment. Title IX’s intent is solid, but the execution is flawed. Colleges just slash and burn male Olympic Sports to make the “numbers” work instead of truly offering equal opportunity. It doesn’t make a women’s team feel better if their male counterparts no longer have a team but their “percentage” is now fixed in the college. They want access to the same water, the same courts, the same trainers. THAT is the intent of Title IX. The system needs a deep overhaul.