Apr 23 1999

Title IX and Women in Sports

What's Wrong with This Picture? Plenty...

(Posted here with the NWLC’s kind permission)

The National Desk program “Title IX and Women in Sports: What’s Wrong with This Picture?” was filled with misinformation, myth, and fabrications. In short, it was an irresponsible broadcast masquerading as serious journalism. Virtually every aspect of the program, from the title, host Larry Elder’s repeated untruths about Title IX, and statements of so-called “experts” interviewed, presented viewers with an inaccurate and unbalanced portrait of Title IX and athletics. Among this program’s many errors are following:

On a very basic level, the program misidentified Title IX as part of the Civil Rights Act. In fact, Title IX was passed as part of the Education Amendments of 1972. It prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded education programs and activities. It covers discrimination not only in athletics, but also in other areas of education.

The program claimed that Title IX has not been applied to the classroom. Not so. Since its enactment, the statute has, indeed, been applied to classroom. Title IX has been held to prohibit sexual harassment, discrimination in admissions, housing, and many other areas in education.

In fact, the program misstated Title IX’s requirements regarding participation rates, suggesting that schools must have the same number of male and female athletes. In truth the “proportionality test” is only one of three ways that a school can choose to comply with Title IX’s participation requirements. The proportionality prong allows a school to demonstrate that the percentage of male and female athletes basically matches the percentage of male and female students enrolled. A school also can be in compliance if it can show a history and continuing practice of program expansion in response to the developing interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex; or if its present athletics program meets the interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex.

According to the program, the proportionality test is applied to other areas of education. Untrue. The three-part test mentioned in the program — of which proportionality is one part — only applies to claims of denial of participation opportunities in athletics and not to any other areas of education.

The host claims erroneously that anyone can bring a suit under Title IX B even if that person is not a student, does not live on campus, or has not suffered any lack of opportunity. Again, this is just plain wrong. As with any statute, the only persons who can bring lawsuits under Title IX are those who have suffered some sort of injury — such as denial of participation opportunities for an athletics-related suit, or some other type of sex discrimination; whether one is on or off campus is irrelevant. The right to bring a lawsuit provides a person who has been injured with a means of having that injury addressed and, where necessary, being compensated for it. In contrast, under the administrative enforcement scheme, when the primary goal is to bring an institution into compliance with Title IX, anyone can file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education. OCR then investigates and usually works with the parties to resolve the complaint.

The program also mischaracterized the outcome of significant Title IX cases to support its misstatements about Title IX. For example, it claimed that a Supreme Court case, Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools was about winning punitive damages under Title IX, doing so to buttress its claim that the statute allows frivolous suits brought by persons who never were harmed under Title IX. As discussed above, the latter claim is completely untrue. Additionally, Franklin makes clear that damages are essential to ensuring that Title IX’s mandate of equal educational opportunity is realized, since damages may provide the only concrete method of compensating a victim of sex discrimination.

The program even dared to pull an old stereotype out of the hat: males are simply more interested in sports than females. This statement appeared throughout the program without any support whatsoever. The facts show quite the opposite. For example, before Title IX, when it was widely assumed that women had no interest in sports, girls were just one percent of all high school athletes. Since Title IX’s enactment, opportunities for women have expanded B and, not surprisingly, so has their interest. The sheer number of girls playing sports at the high school level today — 2.5 million — indicates that even if you doubled the number of college opportunities for women, there would still be ten times as many women interested in playing sports in college than there are opportunities.

Another claim made throughout the program is that gains made by women under Title IX have come at the expense of men’s minor sports in particular. Since Title IX was enacted, for every new dollar spent on women in athletics, two new dollars have been spent on men. Men had a net gain of 12,586 participants at NCAA institutions over the last five years. Moreover, men’s minor sports suffer from the fact that football and basketball eat up the overwhelming share of the men’s budget at many institutions, leaving very little money for men’s minor sports.

Title IX’s mandate with respect to athletics is not a result of bureaucrats and advocates taking advantage of loopholes that Congress never intended. Congress recognized the need to remedy sex discrimination in athletics and specifically gave the Department of Education authority to make rules implementing Title IX. And, ultimately approved the regulations the agency adopted to enforce Title IX.

The facts demonstrate that plenty was wrong with PBS‘ broadcast of “Title IX and Women’s Sports”. The reality is that the program was riddled with inaccuracies from beginning to end. The hard facts show that male athletes simply continue to receive more opportunities and more resources than female athletes. Men have almost twice as many participation opportunities as women, almost twice as many scholarship dollars, four times as much money in their operating budgets, and five times as much money in their recruiting budgets. Female athletes are still not receiving their fair share. Some women’s teams still have to raise money for their coaches, travel in buses or vans, and have games and practices scheduled at less convenient times. Title IX’s work is far from over, but you’d never know that after watching National Desk on PBS.