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Jun. 23—Fifty years ago today, President Richard Nixon signed into law the legislation known as "Title IX." Modeled after Titles VI and VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Title IX forbids sex-based discrimination at educational institutions that receive federal funding.
A half-century later, one is startled to realize that Title IX's authors were not focused on athletics. They were targeting women's exclusion from higher education, sex bias in textbooks and discriminatory practices in faculty hiring. Title IX does not specifically reference athletic programs, but it quickly started changing interscholastic and intercollegiate sports, and that is what it is best known for today.
That probably should not be a surprise. Sports is the tail that wags the dog in higher education. There is almost certainly far more written in American newspapers, including this one, about the local colleges' football teams than about their engineering programs, far more airtime devoted to college basketball than to liberal arts departments. Major universities don't pack 60,000 people into their libraries on Saturday afternoons in October.
So Title IX's implications for sports quickly took over. And those implications, largely forced upon foot-dragging administrators who insisted that expanding women's athletics would lay waste to the established men's programs, are genuine and meaningful.
Women's intercollegiate athletic participation has expanded roughly 12-fold since 1972. Similarly, the athletic participation of girls in high school has markedly increased. About half of girls graduating from American high schools now do so with significant athletic experience compared with one in 12 girls in 1971.
And this matters in overall attainment for women. Girls with athletic experience are more likely to enroll in college, participate in the workforce as adults and enjoy a healthy adolescence and adulthood.
In 1970, before Title IX, women earned 10 percent of all doctorates. Now they earn 54 percent. Title IX — not just the athletics part of it, but all of it — made that possible. It has opened up the possibilities for half of America. The gains are imperfect, but they are real and worth celebrating.