On Sunday, USA will play the final of the Women's World Cup against the Netherlands, and there's a good chance the Americans will win. Victory would bring a fourth world title for the US women's team – there have only been eight World Cupcompetitions in history.
The talent pool for female soccer players in America appears bottomless. The American women are so talented that players who would be starters for other countries, such as the forward Christen Press, frequently find themselves on the bench. The US has found itself with a huge number of phenomenally talented female soccer players: how did we get them?
In large part, we got them through policy, in particular the Education Amendments Act of 1972. Shepherded into law by Congresswoman Patsy Mink of Hawaii, the title IX provision of the act was a response to feminists' push to close a loophole in the Civil Rights Act of 964 that allowed federally funded schools, colleges and universities to discriminate by sex. Title IX was intended to prohibit this kind of discrimination, and it applied to all educational programs and all aspects of a school's operation – including sports.
Title IX was controversial from the beginning. The law was passed when school-based athletics programs for girls were virtually non-existent, and cultural mores and common superstitions alike held that sports and physical competition were the province of men, and unnatural or even unhealthy for girls. Republican senators John Tower of Texas and Jesse Helms of North Carolina were particularly preoccupied with the bill's mandate that schools fund sports programming for women, introducing multiple amendments to the bill that aimed to exempt athletics departments from the non-discrimination mandate. The amendments failed, but title IX's sports funding provision faced an uphill battle to implementation – it was gutted by the supreme court in 1984 and had to be re-implemented by Congress in 1988 in an override of Ronald Reagan's veto. Even then, its enforcement was fought tooth and nail by school administrations and the NCAA.
The success story of women's sports shows how marginalized groups can be given opportunities through policy interventions
Title IX established a large and unwieldy legal apparatus for schools, colleges and universities, and the purview of that apparatus extends far beyond sports. Taken as a whole, title IX's success in creating discrimination-free educational environments for women and girls is spotty at best. But the athletic non-discrimination provision has been a massive success in encouraging American girls to play sports.
By demanding that schools provide opportunities for young girls to play sports and mandating that universities provide equal scholarship funding for women, title IX created opportunity and incentive for girls to play sports. Suddenly, not only were energetic, athletic girls given the same opportunities to play as the boys were, but they also had the opportunity for their sporting talent to fund their educations through scholarships.
Participation shot up. In 1972, when title IX was passed, there were only 700 girls playing soccer at the high-school level in the whole United States. By 1991, the year of the first Women's World Cup, there were 121,722 high school girl players – a 17,000% increase. That number has more than doubled since: in 2018, there were 390,482 high school girl soccer players. The success of the women's team will keep inspiring young girls to enter sports, so this number will probably keep growing.
Nearly 50 years after title IX became law, a generation of women has reaped the benefits of institutional support, professional development and education that the law provides, and many of them have gone on to successful athletic careers. Those careers were made by policy: title IX effectively turned the American education system into the world's most successful women's sporting development organization. The success story of women's sports under title IX shows how marginalized groups can be given opportunities through policy interventions; how the talents and passions of individuals can be fostered when they have institutional support.
When USA faces off against the Netherlands, Americans can cheer not just for the accomplishments of the soccer players on the field, but for the success of a law whose fundamental principle is that women's and girls' potential is worth investing in.
Moira Donegan, The Guardian, July 6, 2019
July 8, 2019
Voices4America Post Script. The USA Women’s Soccer team won the World Cup yesterday, beating the Netherlands 2-0. This article, published on Saturday, makes clear tha Public Policy made this great victory possible. We empower people to do great things by good laws. #TitleIX #Vote4theAmericaYouWant