Title IX: Celebration, Reflection, and Protection

By Ros Gold-Onwude

Somewhere in Queens, a dimly lit auditorium hummed with the nervous chatter of African American, Latina, and Indian mothers. It was a school night. The chairs had been cleared out, tape put down on tiles to make a three-point line, and little “over-charged” girls chased after the one basketball in the multi purpose auditorium/gym. It was registration night for a new girls’ basketball team in our neighborhood and there was a nice turnout of about twelve girls. Registration night wasn’t glamorous or overly organized yet the excitement was palpable not only in the little girls but also in the group of mothers, many of which had never participated in a sport themselves. Interestingly enough, the leader of the mother clan was my mom, Patricia Gold, a woman who existed in our household as a shy and timid personality. It was not until I began to play organized sports that I recognized my mother as anything but that. While not an athlete, she always held a passion for sports. Frustrated by not having many athletic opportunities as a young girl she was determined to make sure I had them. When she realized there was no basketball team for girls my age in our neighborhood, she sought the cooperation of the local church in creating a team. On our house computer, she used the “Paint” application to draw a stick figure of a girl shooting a basket and underneath the picture typed the words, “New Girl’s Basketball Team: Sign up and Play!”. She copied a stack of flyers and walked the streets of Rego Park and Lefrak City taping the papers to light poles and bus stops.

*****

The Coca-Cola Company held a celebration of the 40th anniversary of Title IX at Jazz at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City this Monday, June 18th. The buzz of introductions and squeals of reunions between high-ranking sports executives and top female athletes were accompanied by a beautiful city backdrop. The event included a cocktail social, a premiere viewing of “Sporting Chance”, an hour long documentary produced by the NCAA, and a panel discussion of Title IX with Billie Jean King, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Summer Sanders, and Cheyenne Woods, with Tracy Wolfson as moderator. Dr. Mark Emmert, the President of the NCAA, also appeared on stage to share his investment in Title IX not only as an executive of the national organization but also as an individual with a personal story of love for a daughter and grand daughter deserving of equal access to the life skills and lessons that come from sports participation.

The NCAA documentary was especially informative. We heard from the “Father of Title IX”, Birch Bayh, on the statute’s founding, politicians like Condoleezza Rice on its role in political discourse, athletic directors like Donna Lopiano on implementation, and academic researchers like Margaret Dunkle on the challenges it faces. We also enjoyed the testimonies of athletes (including pro, collegiate, and recreational) like Don McPherson, Donna de Varona, and Tamika Catchings about the impact this Educational Amendment has on not only the lives of women, but also the entire American community.

Of particular enjoyment was the panel discussion of Title IX. Title IX was passed in 1972 requiring gender equity for boys and girls in every educational and athletic program that receives federal funding. All four panelists, King, Joyner-Kersee, Sanders, and Woods have either cemented or are on the way to writing their legacies in the canon of athletic excellence lore. Before our eyes were female athletes of different generations all enjoying the benefits of Title IX with varied levels of awareness, yet each perspective equally important.

Reframing

Jackie Joyner-Kersee discussed the transition of attitudes and the hesitancy of her mother as Jackie shifted her focus from cheerleading to other sports options that were slowly becoming available to her generation. The entire community and family needed reframing of what and who an athlete could be.

Fathers As Advocates

Cheyenne Woods discussed the impact her father, Earl Woods, had on her career. Earl told his daughter, “you can make it”, and Cheyenne believed him. Without the encouragement of her father, Woods said she would not be where she is today. “Especially with golf. Golf hasn’t been very popular with girls”, confided Woods. Father’s of daughters are often some of the biggest advocates of Title IX. For some men (and women), it may not be until they see the spark in the eyes of their athlete daughter or sister or granddaughter before they understand the glory, the highs, the defeat, the lessons, and the camaraderie of sports transcends all imposed boundaries, including gender.

Keep The Fire Burning

Summer Sanders urged the audience to continue to be torchbearers. She pointed to younger generations of current high school and collegiate female athletes to remember the struggle that led to their opportunities. “I just don’t want to go backwards,” Sanders explained to the crowd. In some ways, pride should be taken in a generation of female athletes lacking in common ground with the women who originally fought for equal athletic opportunity. The entitled attitudes of younger generations signal a positive shift of norms and expectations for female athletes. Still, Sanders gave warning to the opponents of Title IX and hinted that the effort to protect Title IX should be kept alive not only in the hearts of equal rights crusaders of the past, but also those of the present too.

It’s About Having a Choice

As the panel came to a close all the guest speakers worked to put their finger on it. The panelists explained how Title IX affected their own lives, but struggled to find the exact words to define what Title IX MEANS. Finally, it was Billie Jean King who said it simply and best, “It’s about choice. It’s about having a choice.” The audience applauded in agreement. Title IX doesn’t mean every woman will become a collegiate or professional athlete. However, just having the option for a future in sports gives young girls everywhere something to dream for and aspire to. For every one young lady who will receive an athletic scholarship to a collegiate program, there are many who played alongside or against that athlete who won’t. Title IX is just as much about the recreational participant as it is about the top tier athlete, and it is because of that fact that Title IX is important. Title IX benefits all members of society by producing sport experienced women who encourage teamwork, face adversity bravely, welcome competition, and have felt the tingling outer body experience of athletic success.

*****

I wonder what my mom was hoping for when she walked the streets taping girl’s basketball registration flyers to light poles in our neighborhood. With each flyer she posted she increased my chances at both personal and professional success. Through basketball I’ve been blessed to receive a college education for free and see the world. I’ve experienced some of the most thrilling moments of my life on a basketball court. I know what it feels like to jump into the arms of teammates drenched in the celebratory roar of thousands of fans. Yet, for Patricia Gold, a woman who never played an organized sport in her life, I don’t think it was about any of that. As my mom posted those flyers one by one, I believe it was just about giving her daughter a chance to have something to believe in.