Title IX, of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 was a revolutionary federal law that declared 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.”
As a school girl in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin at that time, I was an early beneficiary from this law and always had the opportunity to run track, play basketball (although not very well) and play on our state championship golf team (as the 5th player…but nonetheless!). Earning athletic letters and having my letter jacket acquisition my sophomore year be one of my prized possessions for many years to come.
But even in the early 70’s, implementation of the law was uneven and I didn’t realize until I was in college with other women participating in college athletics that my smaller city had offered more opportunities than many across the country. I learned a great deal from playing team sports at a young age. How to be part of a team, how to share the glory and “the agony of defeat”, the importance of communication and certainly how to be part of a bigger whole. Maybe that was part of the reason for encouraging my own daughters to also play team sports at a young age, as much as that led to much of our life during their middle school and high school years being spent on the road traveling to various softball events and dusty fields on the east coast. One will never know, but I am certain those years of teamwork certainly have not hurt either of them in their career trajectory.
But I, like many women of my age, still found watching our United States Women’s Soccer team over the course of their fabulous World Cup play, with a little catch in the back of my throat. Watching incredibly talented athletes, tough as nails and passionate about their play and their teammates – with an eye on and a voice for equality – playing to win and to bring the cup home for our country, was something special. I know enough to be dangerous when it comes to the rules of soccer and I sometimes find myself fighting to stay engaged with the low scoring nature of the game but watching a gifted athlete – or an entire field of them – is a thing of beauty. This generation is well established as a recipient of Title IX and has gone on to prove that women’s sports can generate as much or even more revenue than their male counterparts if that is going to be part of the equality equation. I loved that even the Green Bay Packers have an entire social media page devoted to congratulating USWNT! That is what I call showing mutual respect.
And what is it really all about? It’s all about the young women who are growing up knowing no boundaries and who take victories like this weekend for women’s soccer in stride. Like Mike Romano’s elementary school-aged daughter in the office today in uniform and cleats after her soccer camp ended for the day. When I asked her what she thought about the U.S. win, she demonstrated the fist pump and woohoo that she had let rip as the goals were scored and game concluded. That also made me get a little teary.