Title IX turned 40 years old last month; it took me this long to write about it because, well, sometimes it's hard to talk about successes. At this point, the athletes benefitting from Title IX don't even know it; it's been a part of high school and college athletics for their entire careers. And at this point, it's almost shitty to point out how much they owe to Title IX, in that it takes away from their own accomplishments, like they didn't get their on their own, they had to have a "government handout".
But, the success of Title IX is real; at the high school level, the 294,015 women playing sports before Title IX jumped to 2,953,355. The 3,666,917 men became 4,206,549. At college, the number of women's teams has doubled. The policy enjoys the support of 80% of the public. It is, most likely, the single piece of progressive legislation that has touched the most people since the Great Society, and a monument to what well-targeted government intervention can do. In comparison to that, the frequent criticisms of Title IX seem trifling; the "women just don't like sports as much" argument rests on George Will's ability to read the mind of every single woman in America (and the bow tie indicates that he can't even read the mind of one woman). The idea that it forces schools to cut other sports (Wrestling being the frequent example) conveniently ignores the fact that schools keep paying their football coaches more than their University Presidents. There's just nothing there; Title IX is an unprecedented success, and that's hard to talk about. Sports Are Good, or at least, Can Be. Letting more people experience that is even better.
So let's move on to the next battle for gender equality- or rather, the next battles. Because the sad fact is, we're not nearly done. We need to stop treating women athletes like they're somehow more mentally delicate than men. (Edit: the original version of this post did not specify that we're talking about mental toughness; reader Anonymous helpfully pointed out that that wasn't clear). We need to get women's programs at colleges to some rough sort of parity in terms of scholarships and operating expenses. We need to stop shaming women athletes for doing things that vaguely remind us of sex. We need to get not just more female athletes, but more female coaches, athletic directors, general managers, and front office executives. We need more of everyone, period. And hell, along the way, we need to keep smaller sports- like wrestling- going.
The one thing all of these issues have in common is that they're exceedingly hard to legislate without some pretty major unintended consequences. When we're talking about Selena Williams' emotions or the Grunt-O-Meter, we're talking about broad cultural attitudes on women. When we're talking about scholarships and funding, we're talking about hundreds of schools each making individual (And incredibly difficult) choices between funding dozens of worthy programs. When we talk about female coaches and executives, we're talking about finding the right candidates who can say the right things in interviews with the right owners and directors. Title IX was amazing, but it can't do anything about that.
Instead, it's going to have to come down to broad-based shifts in society's attitudes about women and sports. It's going to force us to reexamine our priorities in sports, especially at the high school and collegiate levels. The bad news is, that's much harder, it's going to take a long time, and we're all going to have to pitch in. The good news is, it's a testament to how much good Title IX has done, that it's now a cultural issue, not a legal or structural one. We won- and now, the real work begins.