Title IX at 50: Star Athletes On the Law's Impact and Work Still to Be Done

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CREDIT: Photo-illustration by Gluekit; Source photos by: Gamma-Rapho/Getty; Courtesy of EleVen by Venus Williams; Dan MacMedan/Contour/Getty; David Jensen/Icon Sportswire/Getty; Donald Miralle/Getty; Icon Sportswire/Getty; Baptiste Fernandez/Icon Sport/Getty; Christopher Morris/Corbis/Getty Getty

"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." —Title IX, of the Education Amendments Act of 1972

Sports is a numbers game, and the landmark legislation that paved the way for women's sports in the U.S. is full of them. There's the name: Title IX. Thirty-seven is a key figure, too. That's how many words are in the law—not one of them is "sports" or "athletics," by the way—which bans discrimination on the basis of sex in educational institutions and programs that get federal funding. And then, of course, there's 50, the number of years since Title IX was enacted.

This milestone anniversary is occasion to reflect on the law's powerful impact and the work still left to achieve gender equity in America. Numbers help tell that story, too. Since Title IX became law in 1972, female participation in high school sports has grown by 1,057 percent and by 614 percent at colleges and universities; today, 44 percent of college athletes are women vs. just 15 percent 50 years ago. As participation at the high school and college level exploded, so has women's sports at the professional level—from the number of teams and leagues to viewership to pay for athletes, all have experienced exponential growth.

Yet huge gaps remain. Only 30 percent of college sports recruiting budgets, for example, are spent on female athletes, even though women make up nearly 60 percent of students. Male college athletes received $252 million more in scholarship money than women last year. And coaches of women's teams typically make less than half as much as those who lead men's teams, and often a lot less than that. Inequities remain in facilities, opportunities and pay at every level of women's sports—something only underscored when major victories are achieved, such as the U.S. women's soccer team winning pay parity and a $24 million settlement earlier this year after a years-long fight (soccer great Megan Rapinoe talks about this development in her conversation with author Roxane Gay here).

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As any athlete or sports fan knows, though, stats only go so far in telling the real story, the human tale, of any game. At its core, Title IX was about giving power to women, to their talents and their voices, not keeping score. As its legislative champion, the late Congresswoman Patsy Mink once said, "The purpose of my bill is really to free the human spirit, to make it possible for everyone to achieve according to their talents and wishes." (Read Gwendolyn Mink's powerful essay about the personal drama behind her mother's battle to ensure sports was covered by Title IX here.)

In that very human spirit, Newsweek invited world-class women athletes across a variety of sports and generations to tell us in their own words what Title IX has meant to their lives and careers and about their hopes for future generations of female athletes and women. Their reflections, via interviews and first-person essays, follow—from tennis-great Venus Williams weighing in on her ongoing fight for pay parity for women to Olympic Gold medalist swimmer Janet Evans' advocacy of equity and inclusion in sports to college basketball phenom Aliyah Boston talking about the ongoing challenges Black female athletes face, among many others. On this important anniversary, we hope you find their words and their stories as powerful and inspiring as we did.

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