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  • Kate Mihevc Edwards PT, DPT

Fighting for Equal Rights: A Look at Title IX Through 50 Years

By: Leda McDaniel

Title IX was part of the equal rights amendment, and more specifically the education amendments, to the U.S. constitution and was enacted on June 23rd, 1972 making 2022 the 50th anniversary of this famous piece of legislation. Title IX is most well known as the legislation that sought to create an, “equal playing field,” or equal opportunities for women in sports. However, the wording and intent of Title IX was initially to create equitable opportunities for women in public education, while also mandating the provision of equal opportunity for women in, ‘activities,’ receiving federal funding. This wording was applied to athletics in public schools and has had large ripple effects across its 50-year history.

In Episode #36 of the More Than Miles Podcast, physical therapists Dr. Kate Mihevc Edwards and Dr. Kacy Seynders interview runner, Title IX scholar, coach, and mom Jenny Breuer. Jenny has quite the unique perspective on title IX with her diverse experiences as a female runner, coach, academic, and mother. She is well versed in the requirements and evolution of Title IX, watching the implementation and evolution of Title IX as an athlete and coach, conducting her master’s thesis on Title IX in 1996, and then going on to teach sports administration and sports history classes at the University level.

In the podcast interview, Jenny describes the evolution of Title IX over the 50 years that the legislation has been in place. In talking about early actions from collegiate athletic departments she says, “…because for so long the institutions, the athletic institutions, were run by men and so when Title IX happened and women were now, sort of, invited to the table. As that evolved, when the women came in, usually they came in as senior women administrators (just leading female athletics)…and it didn’t really give us (female athletes) a voice like we have today.”

What is Title IX?

Title IX was enacted as part of the equal rights amendment to the constitution in 1972 and included a “three prong test,” for schools receiving federal funding to attain compliance. This meant that there were three ways that athletic departments could comply with this, “equal rights,” legislation. These three standards are:

1. Proportionality Test

2. History of Program Expansion

3. Full Accommodation of Athletic Interests

The proportionality test is the standard that is the easiest to prove (or fail!) and it states that athletic opportunities must be proportional to the population of students by gender. So, for example if the student body is 60% female and 40% male, then athletic opportunities for women should be 60% of all athletic opportunities at that school. History of program expansion and full accommodation of athletic interests are much more vague. They basically state that a school’s athletic department must be “trending in the right direction” and trying to increase opportunities each year (i.e., history of program expansion) or that the athletic opportunities for women must be serving the needs and desires of the female student body (i.e., full accommodation of athletic interests). Jenny discusses in the interview that these last two standards can be problematic because they don’t necessarily hold schools accountable to the original intent of creating equity in opportunity for women (because this is the traditionally underrepresented gender in sports) but instead allow schools to “pledge that they are trying,” often without taking meaningful actions towards creating equitable opportunities.

Another narrative discussed in the podcast interview is represented in the statement, “just be grateful for what you have,” referring to certain individuals’ response to pursuing truly equitable opportunities for women. Unfortunately, this is not a rare statement or sentiment and the backlash from Title IX has meant that females in sport have repeatedly had to stand up and fight for equal treatment. As Jenny tells it, “I know female coaches who had to sue their universities in order to get equal roster spots or get an assistant coach or get equal budgets…”

So, even though Title IX has been in place and serves as a legal mandate for gender equity, there are still gross inequities at the high school and collegiate level as well as in professional sports. Jenny has lived through some of these inequities and talks about the struggles that she faced as the head coach of track and field for Trinity University, an NCAA Division III school. She talks about travelling for races and coaching duties even while her children were quite young and the stress this created within her family. She even tells the story of pumping breast milk for her young children while on the road as a coach and finding privacy for this in less than desirable locations including pumping in race day port-a-pottys!

Where have we been and where are we going?

Dr. Kate, Dr. Kacy, and Jenny all celebrate the improvement in opportunities for female athletes that Title IX has helped catalyze. They discuss positive outcomes such as the addition of many female sports teams at the public school and professional sports level, the increased visibility of professional female athletes and coaches like Mia Hamm, Candace Parker, the Williams sisters, Simone Biles, and Allyson Felix, and the increased representation of females in coaching and administrative roles. However, despite improvements there are still instances of great inequity such as in pay for female professional athletes and also some schools that are consistently “failing” Title IX mandates seemingly without repercussions. As Jenny states in the interview, “Why do we still have 87% of the schools that aren’t proportional?” referencing the first standard of Title IX compliance.

A recent “win” for female equality in sports came in the summer of 2022 when the U.S. women’s professional soccer team won a dispute guaranteeing them equal pay to the men’s national team. Jenny talks about this win for female athletes, but also reminds us of the sobering truth across the broad spectrum of female athletics and the salary gaps between highly paid male professional athletes and female professional athletes who are working 2nd and 3rd jobs just to make enough to pay their cost of living while training and competing in their sports. In reference to this, Jenny says, “…How can we do that (get equal pay for men and women) in every sport? And why is the NCAA so reactive instead of proactive? It’s the right thing to do and it’s been the right thing to do for 50 years!”

Another enlightening look at Title IX’s history and future comes from ESPN’s 4-part series entitled, “37 Words,” which chronicles the history and repercussions of Title IX through the lens of the key advocates of title IX in the U.S. government as well as candid interviews with female athletes and coaches on the front lines of this legislation. The title, “37 Words,” comes from the 37 words in the statement that makes up Title IX legislation. It reads as follows,

"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”

(NCAA, The Origins of Title IX)

The 37 Words documentary illustrates the process of including these words into the equal rights amendment and tells the story of some of the main champions of Title IX.

Some key players in enacting Title IX were:

  • Senator Birch Bayh: Authored the words of title IX

  • Marvella Bayh: Wife of Senator Birch Bayh, influenced his support of Title IX by communicating to him the numerous instances of sex discrimination she faced including receiving a rejection letter from the University of Virginia reading, “Women need not apply.”

  • Edith Green and Patsy Mink: supporters of Title IX in the house of representatives

  • Bernice “Bunny” Sandler: “Godmother of Title IX,” Bunny helped push forward the legislation of Title IX

As female athletes, it is important to understand this historic fight for equal opportunities, take inspiration from the leaders in this fight throughout the years, and add our voices so that we may continue to make progress towards true equity in sport (and education) for all sexes and genders.

If you are a female athlete, or care about the female athletes in your life, I whole-heartedly recommend listening to the full podcast episode here:

Resources & References:

ESPN’s Title IX Series, “37 Words” (can be found on ESPN + and HULU):

NCAA Title IX Home Page:

NCAA “The Origins of Title IX”:

USA Today Story on Title IX::

Department of Labor Title IX Blog:

Sedona Prince, 2021 call out (tik tok viral video):

Women’s Soccer Equal Pay:

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