"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." These words, from the 1972 Title IX of the Education Amendments to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, offered the possibility of a whole new world to girls and women in educational programs across the country. This was especially true for those who dreamed of competing and coaching in interscholastic and collegiate athletics.
A former college athlete represents the feelings of many when she describes her coach’s reaction to the passage of Title IX. "The joy in her eyes made all of us take notice. She began to talk of the opportunities which would be available to us, the heights to which we could aspire, and the doors that would be opened to us as in no previous generation of women athletes, coaches, or administrators. . . . In short, we would have all of the opportunities that were bestowed on the male athletes."1
Was this a wild prediction by an enthusiastic coach or has this dream materialized? What is the present status of girls’ and women’s athletics? If the dream has not come true, how is today’s game being played and how do we bring equity to the playing field?
The decade after Title IX
During the decade following the passage of Title IX, much activity took place in educational institutions at both the secondary and collegiate level. The regulations required schools receiving federal funds to provide similar numbers of boys’ and girls’ teams, similar payment and preparation for coaches, and similar expenditures for both girls’ and boys’ teams. Consequently, there was a large increase in the number of females participating in athletics. For example, the percentage of girls in interscholastic programs rose from 7 percent to 35 percent.2 Much early growth took place as schools voluntarily began to comply with Title IX regulations prior to their becoming official in 1975, and additional momentum was gained through required compliance reviews.3 This growth had a profound effect on the status and consequently on the acceptability of sport participation for female athletes.
However, there was an unanticipated downside to the implementation of Title IX: there was a sudden drop in the number of female coaches and administrators. In 1972, 90 percent of collegiate coaches of women’s programs were female, but by 1990 this percentage had dropped to 47.3 percent, with the major portion of that decline occurring in the first decade.4 Approximately the same percentages appear at the high school level in most states.
The second decade
The second decade after the passage of Title IX brought less improvement than the first. Today the percentage of girls participating in high school sport is still only 37 percent and at the college level is only 34 percent.5 A number of possible reasons exist for this lack of progress, the primary one being the Grove City v. Bell decision.6 In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that only programs receiving direct federal financial assistance fell under the jurisdiction of Title IX. Because few athletic programs receive direct support, the decision effectively eliminated any power to enforce prohibitions against sex discrimination.
Fortunately for women in sport, the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1988 restored the power of Title IX by ruling it an institutionwide requirement. Today, a proliferation of lawsuits and special task forces are creating positive gains for female athletes. Of current interest are gender equity studies and discussions occurring within the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the major governing body for college sport. Because sport programs in many institutions of higher education involve tremendous financial expenditures, the additional requirements of Title IX are considered by many coaches and administrators to be detrimental to programs for males. For this reason, there has been strong resistance to the complete implementation of equitable policies.
Impact of Title IX on athletes and coaches
Title IX has had significant impact on the participation of girls and women in sport and especially on the acceptance of their participation as positive and beneficial. The Wilson Report: Moms, Dads, Daughters, and Sports documented that most of today’s parents view sport as equally important for girls and boys, and nearly all parents acknowledge the important benefits it provides for those who participate.7 If this finding is correct, why are girls still participating in much fewer numbers than boys and what can be done to create the kind of environment that encourages girls to play?
Because leadership and role modeling are major keys to changing attitudes, the loss of women in sport leadership roles is critical to understanding the present status of girls and women in sport. Girls need to see many diverse women who love and participate in sport activities and they need to see these same women being respected by their peers: male coaches, administrators, and athletes. When girls do not see this level of visibility and acceptance, they will likely view sport as enjoyable but unimportant or out of their realm. They may, in fact, feel out of place if they really like sport or desire a career in sport. Therefore, an increase in female role models is crucial to the future development of girls’ and women’s sport.
Loss of female role models in sport leadership
Historically, women’s sport occurred within the framework of a profession that, prior to Title IX, was traditionally divided by gender. Women taught and coached girls in girls’ gyms, using a predominantly educationally based format; although games might be highly competitive, the focus remained on participation rather than on winning and losing. In contrast, boys’ programs were traditionally highly competitive and more likely to be judged on win/loss records and/or financial success.
Among the earliest actions taken by many schools in meeting Title IX requirements was the elimination of separate programs. Generally, the director of the boys’ program became the director of both programs because administrators were most familiar with the male sport model and therefore perceived male directors as more capable and experienced. At the same time, many new teams were added for girls and although few males had chosen to coach females in the past, the coaching stipends required by Title IX made the job more attractive and respectable. It was during these transitional years that the most significant loss of female coaches and administrators occurred.
In addition, many women left coaching during this time for other reasons. One reason was a difference in philosophies. Female coaches were forced to accept the male athletic model because administrators were usually male and because Title IX required comparable expenditures for boys’ and girls’ sports. This difference in philosophies was dramatically illustrated in the late seventies by the major college women’s sport organization’s stance against athletic scholarships. Because offering scholarships was a part of the men’s programs, women’s programs were forced to give grants also rather than being allowed to use the additional money however they deemed appropriate, for example, for such purposes as updating equipment or making the program more accessible to greater numbers of females.
Even as males were being hired, however, it was assumed that as increased numbers of females gained playing experience, they would move into coaching in greater numbers. Although women have now had 20 years to gain experience, this increase has not materialized, and women continue to lose ground. Researchers have examined this problem from several perspectives, two of which will be considered here.
The coach: creating a more successful person
One body of research concentrates on the attributes or personal circumstances of individual coaches that may hinder their effectiveness. These circumstances could include time conflicts with family responsibilities, lack of experience and knowledge, and weak leadership skills. This focus is reinforced by administrators who find it difficult to attract female candidates for positions, and by currently successful female coaches who believe that unsuccessful women either do not have the ability or have not worked hard enough.
From this research come suggestions that women need to form better networks, develop leadership training programs, attend coaching workshops, and develop coaching recruitment strategies. These ideas are practical and necessary. However, success has been limited and there are opponents of this approach. Some leaders believe that telling women they must be willing to sacrifice more personal time, gain more training, or change their style is simply "blaming the victim."8 It also reinforces the idea that men are inherently more capable coaches.
For example, women do leave coaching because time demands take away from family life. However, male coaches leave for the same reason. Some research demonstrates that male administrators are more likely to list family responsibilities as a reason for women leaving coaching than are the female coaches themselves.9
The common assumption that men are better prepared than women is also unsubstantiated by research. Studies past and present indicate that females have more advanced degrees and more professional preparation in courses associated with coaching, but generally fewer years of coaching experience.10 The question, therefore, is not one of preparation, but of the type of preparation valued. Women’s opportunities for coaching experience are less than half those of men, who may be hired to coach either sex and who often hold more assistant coaching positions; women coach less than 1 percent of boys’ teams.11
Society: creating a more supportive climate
The second body of research examines the larger, more complex social issues of sexism, racism, and heterosexism, and concludes that until these universal, global problems are addressed, women’s efforts to be equally represented in coaching ranks are likely to fail. If females are not as highly valued by society as are males, they will not be valued as coaches either. Our efforts, therefore, should be directed at changing society. Legislation such as Title IX must be rigorously enforced, and administrators and school boards trained in eliminating bias.
In researching the reasons why female coaches drop out of the profession, Connie Thorngren found the following societal factors to be important: devaluation, isolation, gender bias, and homophobia.12 Devaluation occurs because female sport is not as highly valued as is male sport, creating different reward and support systems. Indeed, in some instances, males have been hired as coaches in an attempt to raise the value of female sport. Female coaches tend to have broader responsibilities and fewer assistants. This devaluation also affects the female athlete who receives reduced coaching time; inferior facilities, travel accommodations, and schedules; and less active promotion of her sport.
Women are often isolated because they may be the only female coach in their school or league, a factor likely to limit their ability to effect change without compromising their job security. Some conflict usually occurs before equity issues are resolved. Filing a Title IX complaint can effect change quickly, but frequently results in an undesirable working environment for that coach and her players in the future. The most effective complaints often come from parents and athletes, but follow-up may still depend on the coach.
Pressure on female coaches created by gender bias exists on many levels because players, parents, and administrators may place higher value on the male sport experience. Women coaches feel that they must be perfect and continually prove themselves, while men coaches are likely to be considered highly competent until they prove otherwise. Ironically, some female players even announce a preference for male coaches while preparing for a future in coaching themselves.
Homophobia has historically been a method of controlling female access into male-dominated professions, particularly coaching. Women have experienced this bias as athletes and have adapted to it in several ways. Some become "apologetics" and are very feminine in the traditional sense, even submissive, off the playing field in order to negate the masculine image they are viewed as portraying on the field.13
Another major effect that homophobia has had on the hiring of female coaches is the irrational fear that a lesbian coach will negatively influence a young athlete. Even more disturbing than that this psychological assessment is incorrect, is that the actual sexual involvement of some male coaches with the girls they coach is not considered as deleterious as the more often imagined relationship between female coaches and the girls they coach. This fear is often exploited at the college level by unscrupulous coaches who accuse others of being lesbian or of having all-lesbian teams. At the high school level, women are forced to resign or may not be hired because someone has said they are lesbian. Because many authorities in the educational system still accept sexual orientation as a basis for firing, most women are reluctant to fight back, and some young women choose not to coach for fear of being labeled or harassed.14
Creating change for the future
Positive female and male role models are especially important during early developmental stages, both in establishing concepts of female and male roles and competence and when examining career possibilities. Males value sport experience, rightly or wrongly, as a leadership development activity. The stereotype of men as decision makers and leaders is enhanced when impressionable young minds see only males in coaching positions. According to Carol Gilligan, women often use a nurturing, relational style while men use a more autonomous or authoritarian style.15 Both have valuable aspects, and in the ideal world athletes would benefit from being coached by both males and females throughout their playing experiences.
While it is difficult to create major change in a global sense, every person can make a difference in their own state, area, or school. Every person can support female coaches and sport equity issues by following the suggestions outlined here. Examine your own biases. People may be quite aware of sexism in other areas of their lives but inured to its existence in sport. This bias may be due to a lack of familiarity with an alternative sport system. Some feminists have denounced sport as a male bastion that does not merit attention; but the joy that sport can bring to girls and women is worthy of our consideration.
Let school districts know that you expect female role models in sport for both boys and girls. To ignore this vital area is to ignore one of the most powerful forces in our society and in our schools today. A boy’s role model is often a coach or an athlete and coaching for males is often a fast track to administration. To continue to allow males to dominate in sport is to continue to allow sexism to dominate in schools. Monitor hiring practices closely. It may take more effort to hire a qualified female, and possibly more money, but that is seldom a deterrent when a football coach is being hired. The need for female coaches is critical and justifies the same effort. Be slow to make negative judgments about a female coach’s competence. With support similar to that received by males, she may be very effective. Remember, she may need additional support to offset the negative effects of an unbalanced system.
Be aware of inequities in sport programs in your own area and take the necessary steps to correct them. Be willing to file a Title IX complaint and understand why the coach may need to stay removed from that complaint. Continue to promote educational reform to eliminate sexism, racism, and heterosexism.
After 20 years of Title IX we can now look back, assess the gains, and describe the losses for girls and women. The losses were unexpected and undocumented in the early years of Title IX. Researchers Carolyn Lehr, in 1977, and Vivian Acosta and Linda Carpenter, in 1982, began to warn us that things were not going as planned. We had hoped for gains across the board in sport participation and in leadership, and although there has been an increase in sport participation, there has been a shocking decrease in women’s leadership positions, resulting in fewer women coaching, administering, and officiating sport. It has become common knowledge among equity and sport professionals that there is a nationwide crisis in this area of sport leadership.
Agencies and organizations dedicated to promoting opportunities for girls and women in education and sport responded to the research by designing and implementing program initiatives—some of which are documented here—to rectify the losses of women in sport leadership and to increase the number of girls and women of color in sport.
Women in sport leadership positions have formed networks of support, political action, and education. Two national groups instrumental in developing these programs are the National Association for Girls and Women in Sport (NAGWS) and the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF).
National Association for Girls and Women in Sport (NAGWS)
NAGWS, part of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance (AAHPERD), has been fostering quality and equality for girls and women in sport for over 100 years. It serves those involved in teaching, coaching, officiating, training, and administering all sport, including club sports and intramurals at the elementary, secondary, and college levels. Two recent projects of NAGWS are the Women’s Support and Leadership Networks (WSLN) and Links to Leadership. WSLN was a grant program to proactively recruit women for and support them in coaching, officiating, teaching, and administering girls’ and women’s sport programs at the grass-roots level. States applied for and received grants to educate the public about the declining role of women in sport and physical education. The WSLN special projects included establishing placement or job clearinghouses, conducting sport clinics, disseminating audio recordings of conferences on girls and women in sport, and setting up scholarship funds for aspiring female coaches and officials. Between 1987 and 1990, 10 states received WSLN grants. Many of the state programs have continued and, with additional funds, expanded their initiatives.
The second phase of this project is called Links to Leadership: Promoting Women in Sport: A Model for Skill Building. Links to Leadership is a five-year program awarded to NAGWS in 1990 by the U.S. Olympic Committee. A national leadership conference was held to identify individuals with potential for top leadership positions and to train those selected to attend the conference to conduct state and national governing body (ngb) leadership workshops. NGBs are part of the U.S. Olympic Committee and are a key link between the grass-roots efforts of NAGWS and the development of Olympic athletes. Sports involved in this phase of Links to Leadership are track and field, cycling, field hockey, racquetball, shooting, soccer, and weightlifting. A handbook and further information are available from Mary Alice Hill, Executive Director, NAGWS, 1900 Association Drive, Reston, VA 22091, (703)476-3450.
Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF)
WSF was founded in 1974 by Billie Jean King and other athletes interested in promoting opportunities for girls and women in sport. It serves as a national resource network of programs and services that provide opportunities for girls and women in sport. It also serves as an advocacy program to provide information related to Title IX and gender equity in sport. For more information contact Donna Lopiano, Executive Director, WSF, Eisenhower Park, East Meadow, NY 11554. Hotline: (800)227-3988; Business: (516)542-4700; Fax: (516)542-4716.
There has also been a vibrant response at the state level to maintaining women’s equity in sport. The program descriptions that follow are only a sampling of what now exists.
Oregon Women’s Sports Leadership Network (OWSLN)
OWSLN’s first conference, entitled Moving Women into Sport Leadership Positions: Strategy for Development for Aspiring Women, was funded by a grant from the Women’s Sports Foundation to attract experienced women coaches who were interested in becoming athletic directors. This has become an annual conference. OWSLN also publishes a newsletter, The Inside TRACK, which has a job "hotline." For information contact Becky Sisley, Physical Activity and Recreation Services, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403, (503)346-3383.
Utah Network for Girls and Women in Sport
This state project, started in 1989, holds an annual conference to promote changes in girls’ and women’s sport participation in the state. The major goal of the network is to provide support for athletes, coaches, officials, and administrators. The network fights the trend of declining athletic leadership opportunities for women in Utah by (1) publishing a booklet on common questions and answers about Title IX that was distributed to secondary school administrators, (2) publishing a quarterly newsletter that includes job listings and reports on issues concerning women in sport, and (3) hosting a banquet recognizing Utah sportswomen and sport leaders. For more information contact Jane Miner, Network Executive Director, Department of Exercise and Sport Science, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84112 or Debbie Peel, 215 South, 300 West, Bountiful, UT 84010, (801)298-2724.
Idaho New Agenda
Following the 1983 National New Agenda Conference, which set the research agenda for addressing issues for women in sport, the state of Idaho organized a regional conference that is the oldest New Agenda organization in the country. They have conducted eight conferences that have led to regional and national research on women in sport. For more information contact Barbara Eisenbarth, Idaho Department of Education, 650 W. State St., Boise, ID 83720, (208)334-2186.
Citizens for Sports Equity (CFSE)
This project was started with a WEEA grant in 1986 (see Sex Equity in Sports Leadership on page 8). The initial objective was to provide a high-visibility, political approach to promoting women in coaching and officiating.
CFSE has several projects focusing on grass-roots activism. Their newsletter, The Full Court Press, is an excellent source of information about conferences, issues, and outstanding achievements of Kentucky sportswomen. CFSE has great statewide recognition and support and is a good example of a program where a few, working effectively, have put together a big front that looks like mythical marching millions advocating for women in sport. For more information contact Brigid DeVries, President, Citizens for Sports Equity, Kentucky High School Athletic Association, 2280 Executive Drive, Lexington, KY 40505, (606)299-5472.
Run Jane Run (RJR)
The RJR program, organized by the Fort Wayne Women’s Bureau, Inc., is designed for those who grew up without the encouragement to become anything they wanted to be. The RJR literature explains the rationale for this event: "Today’s adults were influenced by Dick and Jane. Remember Dick? He was always running, exploring, and creating while Jane stood by and watched. ‘Look, Jane, look.’"
RJR is a multisport event for women at all skill levels, created as a competitive opportunity for area women and to raise funds. In its first 10 years RJR generated $635,350 for the Women's Bureau and provided competitive sport opportunities for over 30,000 amateur athletes. In 1984, a separate not-for-profit corporation was formed, and RJR, Inc., now has a national network with local affiliates in eight cities. For more information contact Fort Wayne Women’s Bureau, 303 E. Washington Blvd., Fort Wayne, IN 46802, (219)424–7977.
Massachusetts Advocates for Women in Sport Leadership (MAWSL)
This group is committed to increasing the number of women administering, coaching, and officiating sport programs. They conduct sport clinics and have established the New Agenda Northeast Women’s Sport Hall of Fame. For more information contact Mary Lydon, Director of Physical Education, Quincy Public Schools, Quincy, MA 02169, (617)337-5089.
There are many other significant state and national groups (such as the YWCA of the USA) that have created programs for women and girls in sport. Even a cursory review of programs underscores the need for a central clearinghouse for information. Gender-role stereotypes in sport continue to be shattered. More and more females, as a result of such efforts as those documented here, are crossing into the most sacred territories of sport, those traditionally dominated and controlled by white males.
The following is excerpted from WEEA publication Just What the Doctor Should Have Ordered.
Title IX's sweeping provisions regarding athletic equity cover all levels—from high-level intercollegiate teams to interscholastic (high school) sports to intramurals, club sports, and physical education classes. . . .
Although good sports medicine and training are important for the health of student athletes, Title IX does not require that any school provide these services. The Title IX regulation lists the "provision of medical and training services" as one of the factors that the director of the Office for Civil Rights "will consider" in determining whether or
not an institution is providing female and male athletes with overall equal opportunity. Also, the Office for Civil Rights issued an important Intercollegiate Athletics Policy Interpretation in 1979, explaining that a college's compliance with Title IX in the sports medicine area will be determined by examining the equivalence for men and women of the availability of medical personnel and assistance, the availability and qualifications of athletic trainers, the availability and quality of weight, training and conditioning facilities, and health, accident, and injury insurance [OCR/HEW, 1979, p. 71417]. . . .
This standard that the Office for Civil Rights published for assessing equity under Title IX is viewed by some people as being a bare minimum. It allows unequal opportunities in some areas if the school can prove that the discrimination is "insubstantial," "justified," or the result of nondiscriminatory factors. As a result of this relatively flexible Title IX standard, a school that the Office for Civil Rights deems to be in compliance with Title IX may fall short of being in compliance with a more strict state human rights law or state equal rights amendment.
In making Title IX judgments in the area of athletics, it is important to remember to compare female sports opportunities with male sports opportunities. There is a temptation to compare women's sports opportunities at one school or college with women's sports opportunities at another school or college: this is not a valid comparison to make in judging equity.
Also, to make a valid comparison, one must compare all sports opportunities for males (including football) with all sports opportunities for females. There is no exemption for football or other so-called revenue-producing sports under Title IX.
WEEA resources for athletic programs
The products of the Women’s Educational Equity Act (WEEA) Publishing Center help build equitable sport or athletic programs that respond to the specific needs of young females, while also providing models that provide both males and females with healthy alternatives to traditional—competitive—sports. Developed with funds from the WEEA Program, the materials may be purchased by mail or phone. Orders under $25.00 must be prepaid unless charged to MasterCard or Visa. For prepaid orders, add $2.25 shipping for orders under $25.00; add $4.25 for orders $25.00 and over. For a complete listing of materials contact the WEEA Publishing Center at (800)225-3088 (in Massachusetts call (617)969-7100).
Fair Play: Developing Self-Concept and Decision-Making Skills in the Middle School, Decisions about Physical Activity, #2504 $13.50
A 29-lesson physical activity unit to improve students’ fitness skills and attitudes toward physical activity. Part 1 is designed to alert students to female and male differences in attitudes toward various physical activities; part 2 encourages students to think in terms of increasing individual potential rather than accepting stereotypes about females or males; and in part 3, students are encouraged to make decisions about physical activity for their immediate and long-term future.
Sex Equity in Sports Leadership: Implementing the Game Plan in Your Community, #2707 $8.00
Written by two highly respected authorities in gender equity, the manual is filled with up-to-date information and practical suggestions on how to build sport leadership programs. Whether you are a school superintendent, a guidance counselor, a coach, a parent, or any other concerned citizen, this manual will enable you to move toward equity in your community’s athletic programs.
Just What the Doctor Should Have Ordered: A Prescription for Sex-Fair School Health Services, #2698 $13.50
An equity guide for comprehensive school health. Do trainers routinely travel with your men’s teams but not with your women’s teams? Is a separate program for pregnant or parenting teenagers legal? Must you provide family planning information in Spanish if you already provide it in English? This timely manual provides administrators, teachers, counselors, parents, and students with a step-by-step, easy-to-manage method for evaluating their student health and sport services. Specific chapters discuss Title IX and the need to look at the training and sport medicine needs of individual female and male athletes and teams. This vital guide clearly defines legal responsibilities and helps schools negotiate ethical dilemmas.
A.C.T.I.V.E.: All Children Totally Involved via Equity (set), #2001 $20.00
This engaging set of materials helps teachers promote equity in elementary school physical education. The Teacher’s Manual demonstrates how to teach children equality, cooperation, and self-confidence through games, creative movement, dance, and gymnastics. The Workshop, designed to be used in conjunction with the Teacher’s Manual, outlines a one-day teacher-training program. The Competency-Based Teacher Education Program describes a field-centered model for preparing new teachers and includes teacher assessment and evaluation forms.
Physical Educators for Equity (set), #2441 $19.00
A valuable set of materials that recognizes the fundamental role of physical education in eliminating gender bias in secondary schools. Seven self-instructed modules and a Leader’s Guide help you design a solid, gender-fair physical education program.
Equity in Physical Education, #2077 $10.75
This handy reference manual helps teachers design programs based on the abilities and interests of individual students, regardless of gender or grade level. A detailed checklist enables educators to observe and analyze students’ motor performance and social interaction.
Guide to Implementing a Girls’ and Women’s Sports Commission, #2126 $3.50
Presents the nuts and bolts of setting up a female athletics program in the school or community. The guide covers how to get started, how to get funded, how to promote the program, how to staff it, and how to keep it going—all on a tight budget.
Additional resources for athletic programs
Black Women in Sports Foundation
P.O. Box 2610
Philadelphia, PA 19130
Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO)
400 North Capitol Street, NW, Suite 379
Washington, DC 20001
National Resource Center
441 West Michigan Street
Indianapolis, IN 46202
Girls Scouts of the USA
420 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10018
National Association for Girls and Women
in Sport (NAGWS)
1900 Association Drive
Reston, VA 22091
National Collegiate Athletic Association
6201 College Boulevard
Overland Park, KS 66211-2422
National Federation of State High School
P.O. Box 20626
Kansas City, MO 64195
Project on Equal Education Rights (PEER)
1413 "K" Street, NW, 9th Floor
Washington, DC 20005
Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF)
East Meadow, NY 11554
YWCA of the USA
726 Broadway, 5th Floor
New York, NY 10003
©1998 Education Development Center, Inc.