This is a big moment for women’s sports. It’s the London Olympics and I’m watching the ‘Fab Five’, America’s women’s gymnastics team, receive their gold medals. They’re on the podium, the national anthem is playing, they’re crying, I’m crying. It’s wonderful. This year, 17-year-old Missy Franklin won her first Olympic medal- it was gold. Kim Rhode became the first athlete to win medals in five consecutive Olympics. Yes, five consecutive Olympics. The US Women’s soccer team won their last group stage game on a singular goal scored by Abby Wambach. It was her 141st career international goal (she’s second only to Mia Hamm with 158), it was also the team’s 50th Olympic goal in history. Did I mention that they played this game in Old Trafford, Britain’s 102 year old ‘Theatre of Dreams’, home to Manchester United, where a women’s international match had never been played? Until now.
Watching all of this unfold on our televisions or computer screens, whether in real time or spoiled in primetime, it’s important to think about how we got here. We, the collective group of women, of Americans. This year our country celebrated something special- the 40th Anniversary of Title IX.
Title IX is the groundbreaking piece of legislation passed June 23, 1972 which, in its essence, prevented sex discrimination in education. There are many areas that are covered by the law but, what really garners all the attention is what the law did for women’s sports in this country. Title IX requires gender equality in all educational programs that receive federal funding. This legislation led to a boom in athletic programs for women- and without it, we wouldn’t be having half as much fun as we are watching these Olympics. Obviously, there were still successful female athletes that were participating before Title IX was passed, but Title IX made the road easier for the girls behind the glass barrier breakers.
When reading about Title IX it is nice to realize just how much legislation can affect our daily lives. Yes, yes we’ve all heard about the health care debate and the arguments for/against changing our gun laws, but with Title IX we saw, and continue to see, change in action. Not only did Title IX help women’s sports, it opened up so many opportunities for women to attend college, for girls and boys to be educated in the same way and receive the same benefits in schools. Title IX made varsity girls sports not only possible, but a foothold in high schools around the country. It also introduced collegiate athletic programs only for women- not just for sports like field hockey, traditionally a female sport, but also women’s teams for volleyball and basketball, anything the boys can do (we can do better, am I right?).
However, even with all of this growth in the past 40 years, we still have a long way to go. Many of us don’t even realize how lucky we are, or were, to be playing. With the exception of the WNBA, there aren’t any fully professional women’s sports leagues in this country. Women’s Professional Soccer folded operations this past winter- to the dismay of everyone involved. Many of our girls have had to head overseas to play professionally (or focus time and training on the Olympics, or accept positions on semi-professional leagues for less money). Most female athletes aspire to and train for Olympic glory- but how many can make it? We live in a country dominated by male sports- baseball, football, hockey, basketball, etc. While I’m a very big fan of those sports, I would love to see women get a foothold in the professional sports world.
It seems at this moment, on this world Olympic stage, we can change the course of women’s sports again. Women’s soccer is gaining in popularity, and has been, since last summer’s Women’s World Cup (even though the WPS is caput). Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe have become breakout stars, but keep your eyes open for Sydney Leroux and Kelley O’Hara. You can’t turn on a tv or computer without seeing the five smiling faces of the women’s gymnastics team, or the unbridled happiness on Missy Franklin’s face. We are on the cusp of something great, here.
ESPN released its Top 40 Female Athletes in the last 40 years to celebrate. One of my personal favorites, Mia Hamm, was #1. Abby Wambach landed at #33, Serena Williams at #10, Lindsay Vonn at #19…the list goes on and on (you can check it out here: http://espn.go.com/espnw/title-ix/). And for all the young female athletes out there, whether you’d rather be like Maria Sharapova or Alex Morgan, this list can be your motivation.
Let’s change the face of sports again, stand up, show this country that you deserve the attention, too!
(note: since written, the American Women’s 8+ rowing team snagged their 3rd consecutive gold medal, Gabby Douglas won gold in the women’s all around gymnastics (becoming the first African American woman to do so), Rebecca Soni broke her own world record in the 200M Breaststroke, becoming the first woman under 2:20. Serena Williams won her first individual gold medal, and Abby Wambach scored her 142 career internatonal goal- Sydney Leroux, her first Olympic goal. We are having a moment, ladies!).
Image Credit: USA Today/Christopher Hanewinckel