Lynx Reflect On Title IX

Mark Remme
Lynx Editor/Writer

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Over the course of Minnesota Lynx center Taj McWilliams-Franklin’s lifetime, the scope of women’s athletics has changed in ways today’s youth might not quite realize. McWilliams-Franklin, 41, was born prior to Title IX being enacted into law, which requires gender equity for boys and girls in every education program that receives federal funding.

The law, signed June 23, 1972, ensures both boys and girls can participate in and contribute to activities that include sports, and by 1975 all schools complied with the new rules. Still, passing the law was only the first step in what has become a decades-long process for women’s athletics growing to national prominence.

“For me, a mother of three girls, it’s been an amazing ride and I’m waiting to see the rest of it,” McWilliams-Franklin said. “How will Title IX look in the next 20 years? For me, I’m excited because I hope to have granddaughters, and I hope they get to play and experience college athletics the way I did and all these great girls did.”

On June 23, the Minnesota Lynx will host the Chicago Sky at Target Center on the 40th anniversary of Title IX being signed into law. The day will include both teams wearing commemorative jerseys with the Roman Numeral IX printed on the front, and it will be a day filled with reflection on and the gratitude for all those who helped pave the way for equity in women’s programs today.

When McWilliams-Franklin was growing up, she said her father had different ideologies about how women should spend their time. She said he thought girls should be learning household duties like cooking, cleaning and sewing, not participating in extracurricular activities like basketball. Her high school coach had to come to the McWilliams household and lay down guidelines for when he could expect her daughter to be home after practices to get his approval.

“My dad now is so excited about, wow, professional basketball. My daughter’s playing it, that’s amazing,” McWilliams-Franklin said. “Now my granddaughters can play. For him and for myself, that’s the attitude change I’ve seen in a lot of men and a lot of the older generation people—that it’s not a bad thing and Title IX has helped change that mentality to not a great, because we have a long way to go, but at least to an acceptable level.”

Today, girls and boys alike join sports or other extracurricular clubs without a second thought. There are youth, high school and collegiate programs for both genders, specifically in athletics, and athletic departments have equal number of boys and girls sports programs thanks to the legislation signed by President Richard Nixon in 1972. What started as a fight for equity has turned into roughly 3 million girls participating in high school sports, prominent collegiate programs nationwide and professional opportunities like the WNBA, which began play in 1997.

Girls growing up can dream of becoming a professional athlete like McWilliams-Franklin, Maya Moore or hometown hero Lindsay Whalen.

“I’m extremely thankful,” Whalen said. “It’s provided me just an opportunity to make a living and play basketball. It’s provided me a lot of opportunities. I’m 30 years old, and I’m still playing basketball. It’s pretty cool to think about, and I just feel extremely thankful for the people who before our group came through and made it happen, make this happen.”

[Related Content: CLICK HERE to learn more about Title IX, what it represents and how it impacted youth, high school, collegiate and professional athletics.]

Even Whalen said it’s hard to believe just four decades ago the opportunities she’s had, including helping the University of Minnesota women’s basketball team reaching the NCAA Final Four and earning a WNBA championship last fall, weren’t possible. She said her mom didn’t have the same possibilities she’s experienced during her career.

“There’s no question that Title IX is the reason why the WNBA is here after all these years,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “We’ve had people fighting the fight year after year and going through attacks and that sort of thing, and we’ve been able to survive it. And I think the growth of the game without Title IX, we wouldn’t be here.”

Title IX has 10 key areas it targets, most notably athletics. But the law also influences access to higher education, career education, education for pregnant and parenting studies, employment, learning environment, math and sciences, sexual harassment, standardized testing and technology. Reeve pointed out though sports are possibly the biggest beneficiary, other parts of education greatly benefited from the legislation.

Prior to Title IX, there were essentially no scholarships available for female athletes. Only 1 in 27 girls played high school sports, and female college athletes received two percent of the overall athletic budgets.

Since 1991, AAU youth girls basketball players (19 and under) has grown from 28,840 to 108,758 current participants—a 277 percent increase. High school basketball has risen by 17 percent to 456,967 players during that span, and NCAA basketball players have jumped by 43 percent to 15,096.

In 2011, the Lynx drafted Moore with the first overall pick in the WNBA Draft. Moore, a two-time women’s basketball national champion at Connecticut, was one of the more celebrated female collegiate athletes in NCAA women’s basketball history.

The buzz surrounding her, both when she was drafted and as she helped the Lynx win the championship as a rookie, showed just how much women’s athletics have grown in the past 40 years.

Reeve said she's thankful not only for the proponents of the legislation and the early athletes who helped pave the way, but she's also grateful for enlightened athletic directors who understood the importance of the cause. They opened the door for today's athletic environment. Now, Reeve said it’s important to help continue the growth process.

“I think the main thing now, what I focus on is that our players understand that we have to carry the torch now for all the people that enabled this opportunity for us,” she said.

The Lynx now play their home games in front of thousands of fans, have the chance to travel the country—some internationally—playing the game they love and take the opportunity to help build relationships with their fans within the community.

They are prime examples of the heights women’s athletics have reached since the early days of this important legislation, and it’s something they take very seriously.

McWilliams-Franklin said she owes a lot to those who helped make Title IX a reality.

“Thank you for a job well done,” she said. “I think it’s important that you recognize all the things you have, all the opportunities you have on the backs of other women, pioneers. You always want to be grateful and give your gratitude to them, so it’s always going to be thank you and look what you’ve done.”

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