Title IX: 40 Years Later, U.S. Women Reign Supreme
United States women Olympians came home bedecked in gold and silver as if they had walked off with the crown jewels from the Tower of London.
Only one nation other than the United States managed to win more gold than our wonder women. American men didn’t come close to taking as many medals as their female counterparts.
Surely Michael Phelps, with his record half a dozen London medals for a total of 22, including 18 gold through three Olympics; and Usain Bolt of Jamaica, the “world’s fastest man,” who defended his Olympic gold in both track dashes, will be well remembered as stars of the XXX Olympics.
But without doubt, our United States women stole the show with 29 of the 46 gold medals won by United States athletes and a total of 58 of our 104 medals, as the entire U.S. Olympic team took first place in the gold, silver and total medal counts. Russia had 33 bronze medals to our 29.
There are 136 American women who came home with medals hanging from their necks, while 91 of them have one or more gold medals.
There were 18 American women medalists from each of three sports —- soccer, swimming, and track and field. There were 13 American women gold medalists in both rowing and track and field. All 18 members of our women’s soccer squad and all 12 members of our women’s basketball team have gold. The American women’s soccer team gained its third consecutive Olympic gold, and the women’s basketball squad was golden for the fifth consecutive Olympics.
The numbers are staggering.
China, with 38 gold medals, was the only country other than the United States to win more gold medals than our women won. Only China, Russia and Great Britain, with a total of 87, 82 and 65 medals, respectively, garnered more medals than our women. The host, Great Britain, was justifiably overjoyed to win 29 gold medals and thus equal what our women won.
How They Made Their Mark
The great majority of these positive numbers for our women may be attributed to one very low number famously depicted by the Roman numeral IX.
That is how United States women made a truly impressive mark on Olympic history and did so without the direct national or state subsidized athletic programs provided in most of the 204 countries that entered teams in the XXX Olympics.
We had another form of very strong national governmental support for United States women’s athletics that was enacted 40 years ago. That was back when Congress was functioning properly.
It was when the Senate, followed by the House of Representatives, passed and then President Richard Nixon signed into law on June 23, 1972, Title IX, which amended the Higher Education Act of 1965.
Known as the “Equal Opportunity in Education Act,” Title IX read: “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.”
No longer were girls and young women in high schools and colleges forced to work out late at night after the boys and young men were finished using gyms, pools, tracks and soccer fields. No longer would women be put down in dirty, old, broken down locker rooms and made to use worn-out sports equipment.
But just as was the case with the 20th century civil rights laws and court decisions, Title IX did not turn things around for girls and women overnight. Male chauvinists fought tooth and nail against Title IX even though 99.9 percent of high schools and colleges receive some federal assistance and were subject to the law. Strong among the men refusing to abide by Title IX were those leaders of the powerful, male-controlled National Collegiate Athletic Association.
Just prior to passage of Title IX, women formed the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women in 1971 in order to conduct their own tournaments in numerous sports. This was an outgrowth of the Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (CIAW), which started in the 1950s.
The AIAW lasted until 1982, when the NCAA finally saw the light in the form of dollar signs and realized, in its greedy way, that some women’s sports events such as the basketball tournament made money.
Thus the NCAA absorbed women’s intercollegiate athletic programs and men throughout college sports began to accept and assist with women’s athletics. The AIAW ceased operations completely in June 1983 because women had won the big battle.
Results were Magnificent
Although women were fighting for athletic recognition long before Title IX passage and the AIAW charter, it was those early years in the 1970s and 1980s that produced the strong women’s intercollegiate programs in basketball, soccer, swimming, track and field, golf, volleyball, tennis, rowing, etc.
Not every woman on the U.S. Olympic team this year was a product of a modern Title IX-supported intercollegiate athletic program, although the great majority of our women did go through such college programs.
The impressive youngsters among our women medalists are Missy Franklin, the 17-year-old swimmer who won four gold and one bronze, plus the sweetheart of the Olympics, Gabby Douglas, 16, the first black woman to win gymnastic gold when she took two such medals.
Franklin, a Colorado high school senior, and Douglas, who has been home schooled, have yet to decide whether or not they will go to college.
But six of the dozen members of our gold medal women’s basketball team played for coach Geno Auriemma at the University of Connecticut, the strongest women’s college basketball program over the past decade. Auriemma was our winning women’s Olympic basketball coach in London.
The Connecticut success can be directly attributed to Title IX, as can the success at the University of Tennessee, Baylor, Stanford and other women’s basketball powerhouses. Under Title IX women had to have the same access to facilities, practice time and equipment as the men basketball players at those universities.
The results were good for those schools and magnificent for the United States Olympic team.
Each of our eight oarswomen in the gold medal shell, along with the coxswain, Mary Whipple, perfected their techniques while undergraduates at either Harvard, Ithaca College, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, Stanford, the University of Washington or Yale. Without Title IX, college women could barely get their hands on a rowing shell prior to 1972.
Carli Lloyd, who scored both U.S. goals in the 2-1 gold medal soccer victory over Japan in London, played her college soccer at Rutgers University; and Hope Solo, our goalie who made two spectacular saves plus other eye-popping saves, played for the University of Washington. The other 16 American women soccer gold medalists had intercollegiate soccer experience, also.
Prior to Title IX, women’s college soccer was of no consequence. Now it is a major event on intercollegiate programs, and the United States has had the world’s number one women’s soccer team for years.
Allyson Felix, the 26-year-old sprint star out of the University of Southern California, won three gold medals as she shared in two American relay victories and won her specialty, the 200-meter dash. Title IX was a help for her.
Each of our 136 Olympic women medalists was born after Title IX became law in June 1972. In fact, the oldest medal winner among those women is Lisa Raymond, a native Pennsylvanian who turned 39 while at the London Olympics. This graduate of the University of Florida won a bronze medal in the tennis mixed doubles playing with Bob Bryan, who also won a gold in the men’s doubles playing, as always, with his twin brother, Mike.
These fine women athletes who made America proud of their achievements reminded us that the majority gender in this country is capable of great things in all walks of life.
They also reminded us that there was a time 40 years ago when congressmen acted like adults as they voted to protect women athletes from those foolish old chauvinistic white men who made up the minority and waged war on women, just as they are doing today.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is email@example.com.
More like this story