Signed into law on June 23, 1972, by President Richard Nixon, the landmark Title IX states: “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 educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
With that one sentence, written 40 years ago, the wall keeping girls off the pitch, out of the pool, and away from the perceived perils of playing sports was smashed to the ground.
By all accounts, Title IX is an unbelievable success (participation in girls’ high school sports increased 979 percent since 1972). Observations for the recent anniversary of this landmark legislation ranged from ESPN’s daylong coverage of women’s athletics to the White House’s Empowering Women and Girls Through Sports Initiative.
Yet as we celebrated how far women’s sports have come, many failed to notice a decision that proves just how much further women’s sports have to go.
One year ago, on a rain-soaked field in Germany, the U.S. women’s national soccer team won the hearts of America with its last-second, miracle win against Brazil. Yet professed love for Hope Solo and Abby Wambach did not translate into ticket sales for our domestic league and on May 18, 2012, Women’s Professional Soccer officially folded.
While women have made great strides in high school and college athletics, equality ends with graduation.
“You get the opportunity to play for college, then afterward you have to hang it all up,” said former U.S. Soccer captain Kristine Lilly. “After college, the men still see opportunities; for girls after college, it kinda stops.”
The unfortunate truth is, Title IX can solve many problems regarding equality, but it can’t solve a failing business model.
But what can save it? Does it even deserve to be saved? After all, professional sports, unlike high school and college athletics, are an industry based around making money. If women’s soccer can’t stay in the black, why should others save it?
To that question, I can only speak from experience. I was 11 when I watched Brandi Chastain’s history-making penalty kick won the World Cup and I spent the next few years running around the soccer field claiming I wanted to be Mia Hamm when I grew up. In short, I know firsthand how important it is for girls to not only have the opportunity to play sports, but to also have professional role models they can aspire to become.
While some of these athletic role models have gone abroad to play in the higher caliber leagues of Europe, other chose to play in the WPSL Elite and the W-League — our two semi-pro leagues — getting involved with their local communities, teaching camps, reaching out to young players, and raising interest and awareness.
One such player was World Cup veteran Stephanie Cox, who, along with former teammates Solo, Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, laced up their cleats for the Seattle Sounders Women. The boost these players gave the team is apparent as the Sounders often sold out their 4,500-seat stadium.
After her final Sounders home game, Cox expressed her disappointment at the collapse of WPS, noting how important the next two years will be for women’s soccer with no Olympics or World Cup to keep interest high.
“It will be especially hard if many of our national team players choose to play overseas,” she said.
But it’s not just the players and the league officials who need to support women’s soccer. Fans have a responsibility, too. Too many soccer fans lauded our team’s accomplishments in Germany but not at home. Too many MLS or Premier League fans condemn the women’s game as “boring” without ever having attended a game.
Gender equality in pro sports may be unattainable, but 40 years after Title IX, we all have the power and the responsibility to help level the playing field, to give young women the chance to play, to dream, and to love sports from the field instead of just from the stands.
— Born and raised in Goleta, Diane Zaida left The Goodland to attend college. Upon graduating in 2008, she realized she was crazy to leave a community where she could ride her bike 360 days out of the year and returned to her hometown. She currently lives in Goleta with her rabbit, Charlie, and she spends most of her free time — yes — riding her bike.