ESPN, the cable television sports network, has tipped off the celebration of Title IX’s 40th anniversary early with the launch of Power of IX, a three-month multi-platform initiative dedicated to women’s sports. Considering that this coming Sunday and Tuesday is when the NCAA Women’s Final Four in basketball will be played in Denver, it’s a very good week to recognize the power of women athletes.
Remember June 23, 1972? That’s when Title IX of the Civil Rights Act passed, mandating that, “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.” Notably missing in this wording is any explicit mention of sport, but the popular dialogue surrounding the 1972 federal legislation has long been focused on school sports equality (even though the act affected all of women’s educational opportunities).
Power of IX will explore how Title IX has impacted our society through sports, seeking personal reflections from such influential figures as President Obama and a lineup of prominent female athletes, both former and present. Day One peaked into nine sizzling sibling rivalries, reflecting on such competitive folks as basketball players Cheryl and Reggie Miller (who both won Olympic gold medals, 12 years apart) and the tennis-playing Williams sisters, Serena and Venus. On April 3 you can add your own photo to the largest mosaic of female athletes ever. And on April 30, the countdown begins to reveal the top 40 female athletes of the past 40 years. Who’s your first pick?
ESPN will track the progress of Title IX with stories more than numbers, but the numbers are impressive: Brooklyn College professors emerita R. Vivian Acosta and Linda Jean Carpenter’s thirty-five year longitudinal study on women in intercollegiate sports reports this year that female participation has never been higher, with 9,274 women’s teams. The number of intercollegiate women athletes has grown from 16,000 in 1970, before Title IX’s enactment, to about 200,000 in 2012. In high school athletics over that period, the participation of girls has grown more than tenfold as well.
ESPN over the years has been one of the networks that has regularly covered women’s sports, and in 2010 they launched espnW online to engage women as “part of the sports conversation.” ESPN the magazine publishes an egalitarian annual “Body Issue” that pictures both male and female athletes in stunning nude poses–a refreshing difference from the annual Sports Illustrated “Swimsuit Issue” that features only female models in skimpy beach attire.
Carol Stiff, ESPN’s VP of programming and acquisitions who herself benefited from Title IX as a basketball and field hockey player at Southern Connecticut State University, had this to say about ESPN’s efforts: “We’re recognizing that there’s a desire, there’s a need, there’s an appetite for women’s sports … .”