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Title IX changed athletics — and our culture

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No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. — Title lX, signed into law June 23, 1972

SALT LAKE CITY — While Title IX was never meant to be an overhaul of athletics, in many ways, that's what it became. It certainly bolstered educational opportunities for women, but it was sports and the creation of women's teams and leagues that made Title IX so visible, so controversial and so impactful.

While it opened doors for women that had not only been shut but non-existent, it was also used (some would say as an excuse) to dismantle and reduce the number of athletic opportunities for men - especially at the collegiate level.

In four decades, the number of men's college wrestling programs went from 600 to 225. Utah has more than 3,500 high school wrestlers and only Utah Valley University offers a college wrestling program.

Still, the opportunities for women have increased tenfold, and maybe most importantly, women have the opportunity to earn an education through their athletic skill and dedication. Access to a free education might be the best benefit, but there are numerous others.

I graduated high school in 1986 and benefited directly from the efforts of public schools to offer girls the same opportunities they'd offered boys for decades.

I participated in numerous sports that were just developing when I was in high school. Several times I was recruited or retained on a team because they didn't have enough girls to field a legitimate team.

That is not necessarily a bad thing. How can you know basketball is your passion if you've never been allowed to play? How can you know you want to pursue the rigors of running, if you're told it will make you infertile to participate?

Women don't have the history with sports that men do. It will be generations until we do.

Those of us who grew up with the full benefit of Title IX had mothers who never played sports, or who had to create their own opportunities. They didn't see sports as part of a healthy lifestyle or a passion. They saw them as a hobby or diversion.

One of the women I talked to about the 40th Anniversary of Title IX made the most important point, in my mind. If sports offer so many valuable life lessons, why wouldn't we want our daughters to learn those lessons just as we value them for our sons?

Studies have proven that participation in athletics leads to better self-esteem, better grades and higher aspirations when it comes to education and career choices. Women of my generation still felt like visitors in the world of athletics, but women my daughters' age see it as much their universe as that of any man.

Title IX is not as necessary today as it was in 1972 because now we know what the men actually have. We've experienced it for ourselves, and I doubt we'd ever give it back. But there is no doubt the safeguards have to stay in place to ensure budgetary concerns don't take what so many men and women fought for.

Still, the ratio system could be reworked. If more men are interested in sports, they shouldn't be denied opportunities just because of a quota system. That's the only section Congress should consider revamping.

We needed that protection, that specificity, at one time. But having women as immersed in athletics as men has changed our society. It's made sports the multi-billion dollar business it is - all the way down to youth sports.

That section of what would likely have been another obscure education law changed everything. Because by changing what women had access to, we changed who we are culturally.

Anyone who has a mom who cares as much about college football playoffs, March Madness or the NBA finals as his or her father, understands the reach of the federal law.

Even if that same young man or young woman stares at you blankly and shrugs, when asked to explain what Title IX is.

email: adonaldson@desnews.com