Tennis Great Looks At Legacy Of Title IX On 35th Anniversary

Friday, June 22nd 2007, 8:21 pm
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ In 1972, America was at war in Vietnam, President Nixon signed Title IX into law and future soccer star Mia Hamm was born.

Billie Jean King testified before Congress on behalf of Title IX, and three generations later the result is more female athletes, doctors and lawyers.

Saturday marks the 35th anniversary of the landmark legislation that bars gender bias in athletics and other educational programs.

``I kept thinking about women's teams sports,'' King said in an interview with The Associated Press. ``I grew up with team sports and knew how vital it was that we have opportunity for girls to be in team sports. Title IX is what made the difference for girls to have that opportunity.''

The law withstood attempts to weaken it in the 1980s and current efforts include the possibility of an e-mail survey to determine the sporting interests of female college students.

That aggravates King, whose life has exemplified the arc of progress for women and female athletes. Her fight for equal pay and equal rights for girls and women resonated with a generation during the 1970s and beyond.

King testified in the fall of 1971, the year she became the first female athlete to win more than $100,000 in prize money in a single year. She didn't benefit from Title IX, growing up without organized high school sports in Long Beach, Calif., and with no college scholarship to look forward to at Cal State-Los Angeles.

``Nobody worried about Billie Jean King or kids like me or girls having a scholarship,'' said King, who won the first of 20 Wimbledon titles at 17. ``You didn't hear any outrage, you didn't hear any outcry. I'm just using that as an example because that kind of sets the times.''

King went on to win 39 Grand Slam titles, the most of any American-born woman.

She's been a torch bearer ever since for Title IX.

King believes a ground swell of the civil rights movement, anti-war movement and the women's movement coalesced to make the law possible.

``I think civil rights probably helped make people think about equality a lot more,'' she said.

The 37 words of Title IX state: ``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.''

Like the civil rights movement, it took time for the idea of equity in athletics and other educational endeavors to take hold.

``The hearts and minds campaigns always take at least three generations or more,'' she said. ``If you take surveys, most Americans believe in it, they want it. Most parents insist that their daughters and sons have equal opportunity.''

The Title IX debate quieted after the Bush administration opted in 2003 not to change the rules after months of review. But a 2005 Title IX clarification by the Department of Education allowed schools to treat a lack of response to an e-mail survey as a lack of interest in sports.

NCAA president Myles Brand has voiced his opposition to the surveys, and recommended that member institutions not use it.

``Boys have never had to prove they've been interested in anything to get opportunity,'' King said.

Some universities, such as James Madison, which dropped seven men's sports and three women's sports this summer, contend cuts are necessary to comply with Title IX. The College Sports Council, a coalition of coaches and athletic groups, wants Title IX reform to avoid men's sports cuts, while advocates of the law say its original intent of expanding opportunities and equitable treatment needs to be enforced.

This week, the National Women's Law Center (NWLC) asked Congress to pressure the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) to live up to its Title IX enforcement responsibilities. The center said the OCR initiated only one athletic compliance review among 416 complaints between 2002-06.

``While women have made significant progress in education over the last 35 years, the job is not yet finished and the playing field is far from level,'' said Marcia D. Greenberger, NWLC co-president, who testified Tuesday at the subcommittee hearing on Title IX. ``Women are still too often relegated to the bench when it comes to the facilities, equipment, coaching, publicity and other support services that they receive.''

The Women's Sports Foundation, which King started in 1973, issued a study this month entitled ``Who's Playing College Sports?'' that addresses sports participation levels from 1995-2005.

The study indicated women's sports made steady gains in the mid-1990s, but those increases have stalled since 2001. As of 2004-05, women comprised 56% of undergraduates but only 42% of athletes. To comply with Title IX, a school can show proportionality of female athletes to female students on campus; or a history of increasing sports for women; or prove it has met the interest and ability of the underrepresented group.

Some 87% of schools did not achieve proportionality, according to the report, and 75% did not increase the number of women's sports since 2001.

King points to the success of Hamm and other female athletes who received scholarships thanks to Title IX.

``The only reason we won the gold medals in 1996 in soccer, softball, rhythmic gymnastics, basketball _ you just name the sport _ the reason we were able to win a gold against the rest of the world is because of Title IX. That is absolute proof that it made a difference,'' she said.

These days, Hamm is the mother of 3-month-old twin girls, Grace and Ava. In September, China will host the Women's World Cup, a country Nixon visited in 1972.

King thinks the future emphasis on equity will move into the high schools.

``I think we should go to elementary schools,'' she said. ``I think parents and taxpayers and teachers and everyone have to try to always get things equal.

``I keep striving for it every day. It helps move us forward. I don't see how anyone can argue that fact, that you should always have equal rights and opportunities for all people.''