Title IX: Reflect, but Commit

By Ben York, PhoenixMercury.com

Stephanie, maybe 12 years old, was in a state of euphoric, blissful shock.

“I…oh my gosh,” she said to the Phoenix Mercury’s Woman of Inspiration, soccer legend Hope Solo, as the tears she previously held back began flowing. “I can’t believe I’m standing in front of you!”

Prior to the Mercury’s game against the Los Angeles Sparks on Saturday, June 23, Hope Solo generously held a Q&A session for several hundred young soccer fans. A few lucky ones were selected to ask Hope a question directly, face to face.

Looking at the diverse crowd, not only did the girls sport soccer shirts with Solo’s name, they proudly wore Mercury jerseys with “Taurasi” (and others) stitched on the back.

Stephanie’s defining moment, which she’ll no doubt remember for a lifetime, can be credited to 37 words:

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 education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Think about how significant this scene at US Airways Center was…

- This was before a women’s professional basketball game, attended by over 10,000 fans, for a league thriving in its 16th season.

- A women’s soccer legend was being recognized and honored at halftime, with droves of media flocking to cover the unique event.

- A young girl was so excited to meet her hero, a woman who embodies the role model label, that she broke down in tears.


None of this would be possible without the landmark legislation that passed in 1972.

Yes, the 40th anniversary of Title IX’s passing is over. But the commitment, dedication and passion for the cause need to be permanent.

Far too often, and this is true even today, women’s sports (especially the WNBA) are unfairly maligned and criticized. But not only are the arguments faulty, they’re subjective – showing a deeper misunderstanding of things and/or individualistic chauvinism.

Women’s sports (again, especially the WNBA) also continue to be compared to men’s, which subsequently furthers the flawed belief that in order to be validated as athletes, they need to be universally considered “on par” with men.

But the WNBA doesn’t need validation, nor does any other professional (or amateur) women’s sports league. Simply having the WNBA as an existing entity speaks volumes to the lasting victories of Title IX.

Furthermore, the professional basketball players in the WNBA whom young girls model their games after are just as important as any that young men have.

Title IX has given women’s sports (and men’s sports, for that matter) an increased opportunity to flourish. Ultimately, those who still have issues with the sustained success of women’s sports (and go out of their way to disparage the players and league) have radically deeper issues than just “preferring” men’s sports to women’s.

That’s why so many detractors continue to search for justification in their reasoning by unfairly comparing the NBA to the WNBA.

Quite simply, as we celebrated Title IX’s passing 40 years ago, we need to be equally as focused on the future.

The work and commitment, again, is unending.

After all, it wasn’t more than two years ago when many considered irrelevant the fact that the University of Connecticut was chasing John Wooden’s streak at UCLA of 88 consecutive victories. They argued that the Huskies were starting a new “women’s” streak rather than breaking a “men’s” streak, when the reality is it’s neither a men’s or women’s streak -- it’s an NCAA Division I record.

These are the beliefs that, with a continued pledge to Title IX, we can help change.

That means continuing to go to games. Tweeting and interacting with your favorite players. Raising the awareness level of the entire league.

Perhaps what I love most about the Phoenix Mercury is their unrelenting comfort in who they are. They make no apologies for playing the way they do, and are proud of their place and stature in women’s sports – to the tune of offering free tickets for those who choose to feel…differently.

The fact that the Mercury, as an organization, has the ability to maintain this mentality and outlook is a direct correlation with the groundwork Title IX laid 40 years ago.

No, it hasn’t been an easy journey by any stretch of the imagination, but often the most worthy of causes aren’t.

Seeing the look in Stephanie’s eyes as she met her idle, along with the thousands of girls who get to do the same with Mercury players each season, tells me it’s worth continuing to fight for.