Last year marked the 40th anniversary of the passage of Title IX of the Educational Amendment of 1972, the groundbreaking law that prohibits gender discrimination in federally funded educational programs. That includes athletic programs, of course, and Title IX is credited with helping to level the playing field for female athletes in the high school and collegiate ranks.
The occasion of the anniversary prompted many journalists to write that Title IX has been a resounding success. These commentators often cited the substantial growth in female participation in athletics as proof. For example, they noted that scholarships for women participating in intercollegiate athletics did not exist in 1972; today, over 190,000 women play college sports.
Participation numbers are only one measurement of gender equity, however, and critics of Title IX are quick to point out that the disparities that existed before 1972 have not been completely eradicated. The boys’ football team gets a state-of-the-art scoreboard and new uniforms, while the girls’ softball team must be satisfied with using a baseball field. As the National Women’s Law Center recently concluded, “Despite the fact that Title IX has opened many doors for women and girls in athletics, schools across the country are still not providing equal opportunities for girls to participate in sports and are not treating girls’ teams equally in terms of benefits and resources.”
One organization that continues to monitor the efficacy of Title IX is Fair Play for Girls in Sports. Fair Play is a project within the offices of The Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center (LAS-ELC) in San Francisco. Fair Play has focused its efforts on securing equality for girls at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. In addition, it has brought attention to AB 2404, a little-publicized law in California that calls for equal access to athletic opportunities at the local parks and recreation departments. This issue is particularly important in low-income communities, which are often more dependent on park and rec programs and facilities and which often show a large disparity in athletic participation between girls and boys.
Elizabeth Kristen is the director of the Gender Equity & LGBT Rights Program and a senior staff attorney at the LAS-ELC. Kristen graduated from University of California, Berkeley, Law School in 2001. She spent a year clerking for James Browning on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. She first came to LAS-ELC in 2002 on a fellowship from the Skadden Foundation, described as “the legal Peace Corps,” because it allows recent law school graduates to pursue public interest law. In 2003, she helped start the Fair Play program (originally known as the Title IX K-12 Equality Project).
SportsLetter spoke with Kristen about Title IX, AB 2404, and gender equity in sports by phone from her office in San Francisco.
— David Davis