By Natalie Zaterka, VI Form, Shen Prize Winner (20-21 School Year)
The Pledge of Allegiance states we are “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” My hope is that one day these words will ring true because these ideals are essential to America’s democratic promise of equality for all. Since the United States’ founding, women have made great strides towards equality. We have protested, shattered traditional gender norms, and achieved legislation such as Title IX, which outlaws discrimination based on gender in any schools that receive federal funding, including in its athletic programs. But even after all this work, we have not achieved equality. Title IX may have expanded democracy for women, but discrimination and inequality for female athletes still continues today.
Title IX was transformational for women’s athletics. According to The Sport Journal, this legislation produced a surge of participation in women’s sports from less than 32,000 intercollegiate women before Title IX to 200,000 intercollegiate women and 3 million high school girls in 2010. Colleges and universities created more sports options for women allowing them to compete at a higher level, but despite this progress, gender discrimination still cast a shadow over American athletics.
In 1992, it was revealed that Indiana University of Pennsylvania gave only 21 percent of its scholarship budget to female athletes. In this case, women were clearly not given an equal opportunity to play at the collegiate level. According to Athnet, even for overall Division 1 scholarships ten years later, “Male athletes received $133 million more athletic scholarship dollars than female athletes.” The disparity in financial support for female athletes makes it easier for schools to defund their programs and blame it on a lack of interest.
Historically, colleges have also treated women as second-class citizens by not providing them with comparable athletic facilities. In 1976, female rowers at Yale wrote “Title IX” all over their bodies and marched naked into the Athletic Director’s office to protest their lack of a locker room while the men’s team had ample facilities. Yale was quick to offer funds to the student-athletes to squash the negative publicity caused by this protest.
Even decades later, inequalities still exist. Most of you are probably familiar with the image that went viral after NCAA basketball player Sedona Prince exposed the differences between the men’s palatial weight room at this year’s tournament while the women’s training facility was a few, pathetic dumbbells. After this unfolded, the press unearthed further evidence of women being treated differently during the NCAA Tournament. From the food the athletes are fed to advertising and merchandising, the men’s tournament gets significantly more financial support. In fact, the women’s tournament is not even allowed to use the March Madness name.
We are still seeing substantial gender inequalities in sports despite the fact that Title IX was passed 49 years ago. A reflection of the lack of enforcement of Title IX can even be seen in our local community. Here in Southborough, while the town has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to put up lights for the boy’s Little League field, they were not able to provide a field for girls’ softball. Even here at St. Mark’s, the disparity between the Boys Varsity Baseball field and the Girls Softball field is clear. The only way to fight these inequalities is to continue bringing them to light at every level in the hopes that we will make progress toward our goal of becoming an equitable democracy.
Suggs, Welch. A Place on the Team: The Triumph and Tragedy of Title IX. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2005.
Athleticscholarships.net. Athnet: Get Recruited to Play College Sports. Last modified 2001. https://www.athleticscholarships.net/title-ix-college-athletics-5.htm.
Scheadler, Travis, and Audrey Wagstaff. “Exposure to Women’s Sports: Changing Attitudes toward Female Athletes.” The Sport Journal. Last modified 2018.Accessed February 17, 2021. https://thesportjournal.org/article/exposure-to-womens-sports-changing-attitudes-toward-female-athletes/