Civil rights law protecting female athletes turns 50 years old

June 1, 2022

By Elona Megally 
Staff Writer

June marks the 50th anniversary of Title IX, which protects people from discrimination based on gender identity, sex and sexual orientation in education programs and activities that use federal financial assistance. Then-President Richard Nixon signed the federal civil rights legislation into law on June 23, 1972. 

Choir director Ms. Wise is no stranger to this legislation. In the 1990s, she worked with Title IX and the United States Bobsled Federation to bring women’s bobsledding to the Olympic Games. Wise, along with the rest of the national team, reached their goal when the sport debuted at the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002.

“When we ended up getting women’s bobsledding into the Olympic Games, it gave me an opportunity to be on an Olympic team,” Wise said. “Unfortunately, I fell short due to injury, but I got to see the very first Olympic gold medal won by a friend of mine in bobsledding, Jill Bakken.”

Wise said throughout their efforts to bring bobsledding to the Olympics, she and her teammates were getting pushback from their male counterparts who tried to prevent them from succeeding.

“When we were in France, a girl had crashed, same as a boy would crash on a track, but [La Plagne, France] banned [the Women’s World Cup circuit] from that track for a few years. They banned the women from the track for years because they said women weren’t capable of doing this men’s sport,” Wise said. “If you really looked at the statistics, men’s sleds crashed all the time there too. It is something that happens within the sport, but they took that opportunity to discriminate against the women.”

Wise said she was a baby when Title IX was passed, and by the time she started school, Title IX had resulted in more equality in female sports in schools, as the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is tasked with assuring compliance with Title IX. Students in a university can file complaints when their school does not meet the expectations of Title IX, and the OCR investigates these complaints and enforces the legislation. 

“I don’t think there was ever a reason for women not to have equal rights.”

Wise said as a result of Title IX, when she was a student at LHS, the school created a girl’s soccer team, which had not previously existed.

During high school, Wise played on the basketball, cross country and track and field teams. She continued running track in college as a member of Rutgers University’s Division I track and field team.

“I started with bobsledding right after college.  I was drawn to the sport originally because it was an opportunity to continue to compete as an athlete and utilize my biggest strengths as an athlete which was the combination of strength and speed,” Wise said. “When I qualified for the top women’s sled in the U.S., I started to have Olympic dreams and got completely dedicated to fulfilling that dream, which was a reality until my Achilles rupture, which ultimately became my career-ending injury.”

Wise said Title IX is a law that gives everyone fair opportunities regardless of their gender.

“I don’t think there was ever a reason for women not to have equal rights,” Wise said. 

History teacher Mr. Tessalone said he first learned about Title IX in an education class when he was an undergraduate student at Pennsylvania State University.

“Title IX means opportunity for girls and women. And since its passage, millions of girls [and] women have benefitted from the legislation,” Tessalone said. [It’s] all about opportunity. Sports provide tremendous opportunities for girls and women to supplement their educations in the traditional classroom.” 

Tessalone said he is glad his three-year-old daughter Reese will get the same access to sports as his son. 

“I will be sure to let her know that girls did not always have those opportunities in the past,” Tessalone said. 

He said even though Title IX is coming upon its 50th anniversary, it should continue to be talked about and supported.

“You do not want people to become idle about protecting the gains made by women, especially in a time where women’s rights are under attack in certain places,” Tessalone said. 

 In 1972 when Title IX was passed, only 2% of the budget for athletics in college went towards women’s sports, while only 15% of women in college participated in athletics. As of 2016, college-level women’s athletics had grown by 25% since Title IX was created.

Sophomore Emma Bannon said women deserve to have the same access to athletics as males.

“Both education and athletics are such an important aspect in today’s world, and everyone should be given an equal opportunity,” Bannon said. 

She credits Title IX with giving her the chance to participate in LHS’ novice indoor and varsity outdoor track and field teams.

“[Without Title IX,] I would not be able to compete in the sport I love and stay in a setting that I grew to enjoy. I would not have met friends that have kept me through many years,” Bannon said.  “I would not have the opportunities that I have now.”

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