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Celebrating 40 Years of Title IX: Getting Girls & Women in the Game!

Let's Move!, Obesity, Title IX | June, 21 2012

By: Billie Jean King, Council Member, PCFSN

When I was growing up in Long Beach, California in the 1940s and '50s, it never occurred to me that I would not be treated equal to my brother, Randy Moffitt, and would not have the same opportunities as boys to succeed. When I was 12 years old, I promised myself that I would commit my life to fighting for equal rights and opportunities for men and women, boys and girls.

I am a pre-Title IX student athlete. When I attended California State College at Los Angeles in the 1960s we were still a full decade away from the enactment of Title IX. Financial assistance was available for tennis players . . . but only available to the men players. Two of the top men's tennis players of the time were attending college down the road from me. Stan Smith was on a full ride at USC and Arthur Ashe had a full scholarship at UCLA.

Four decades ago on June 23rd, the academic, athletic and professional fields of America were forever changed with the passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. This was a critical moment in our Nation's history that I, and millions of girls and women like me, will remember and celebrate.

"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.” Those 37 words not only gave girls and women millions more opportunities to compete on an equal playing field in sports, they also empowered us to compete in any field during the course of our lives.

One year after Title IX passed, I played Bobby Riggs, a former No. 1 player in the world, in a much heralded match at the Astrodome in Houston, Texas. This challenge, known as the "The Battle of the Sexes,” was about more than tennis. It was about social change, about rights and opportunities for women. Prior to the match, I was afraid if I lost to Bobby we would increases the chances that people would want to weaken Title IX. I wanted to change the hearts and minds of people to match the legislation and show people what we could do if women were given an opportunity.

Before Title IX, there were very few, if any, opportunities for women to attend college. This was especially true for women who want to be doctors and lawyers. But now, it's actually reversed. Fifty-four percent of the enrollment in higher education is women. Eighty-two percent of today's female business executives played sports, with the majority saying that lessons learned on the playing field contributed to their success.

Prior to Title IX, fewer than 300,000 girls competed in high school sports; now there are over 3 million. Title IX has increased female participation in sports exponentially. In response to greater opportunities to play, the number of high school girls participating in sports has risen ten-fold in the past 40 years, while six times as many women now compete in college athletics. By the way, that increase has not hurt boys. In fact, male sports participation has also risen considerably since 1972!

Sports taught me leadership, perseverance, resiliency, teamwork and how to play a supportive role and a leadership role both on the court and off. It also taught me how to navigate in our culture. I use the lessons I learned from playing tennis every single day in my business life and in real life. Relationships, how to communicate, how to listen, how to notice body language…those are the nuances you learn on the playing field. The young women who play sports are more likely to graduate from high school, have higher grades, and score higher on standardized tests than non-athletes. Minority and underserved populations are more likely to participate in sports through their schools than through private organizations, making it even more critical that they have access to school-sponsored athletics so they can get the physical activity they need to grow up healthy, strong and confident.

Title IX is not just about increasing opportunities for females. It has been a huge game-changer for girls and boys, women and men across America. But there is a lot of room for improvement and we still have a long way to go. Today there are 1.3 million fewer opportunities for girls than boys to participate in high school athletics and girls often still receive inferior equipment, facilities and scheduling. Coaching opportunities are also unequal. At the collegiate level, 43% of women's teams are coached by women and only 3% of men's teams are led by females. Compensation levels and treatment across all fields are still not equal.

Obesity and health problems facing today's youth affects us all and can lead to chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes, asthma and heart disease. First Lady Michelle Obama is doing a great job through her Let's Move! initiative to fight the childhood obesity epidemic by increasing access and opportunities for physical activity and healthy eating options in communities across America.

From a military point of view, we are in big trouble now. Many of our young men and women can't even pass boot camp. They need a pre-boot camp to get through boot camp. So I often say that we're all in this together and we need to help each other be the best that we can be. Each and every one of us deserves the best that life has to offer. That's what Title IX represents to me.

We need to work together and help each other. We've got to continue to educate and promote equal rights and opportunities for boys and girls, men and women. The health and security of our nation depends on it!

For more information about Title IX and to learn how you can get involved, visit www.fitness.gov.

Billie Jean King on the Importance of Equal Opportunities in Sports

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