How Title IX has empowered female athletes to become creators and entrepreneurs
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- With more than 23 grand slam tournament wins, Serena Williams has won the most of any tennis athlete (male or female) in the modern era.
- Marta Vieira da Silva is the only soccer player, male or female, to be named World Player of the year six times.
- Simone Biles is the most decorated gymnast (male or female) of all time, with 25 world championships and 19 gold medals.
Those are just three examples of women who have dominated sports in recent years and have used their success to become creators and influencers of social change. These women would have never been able to do any of this - or at least it would have been much more difficult - without Title IX.
What is Title IX?
Title IX is a law that was passed in 1972 to prevent gender discrimination in the U.S. educational athletic system. It gives equal access and rights to both genders for educational programs, activities, and federal financial assistance.
Before Title IX
Before Title IX was passed, the debate about the discrimination against women in education and other activities was a hot topic issue in Congress. Before 1972, women were not only discouraged from playing sports, many times they were prohibited. In fact, in 1972 (the year that Title IX passed) there were 30,000 female athletes participating in NCAA sports, as compared to 170,000 men.
U.S. Representative Edith Green of Oregon, Bernice Sandler of the Women’s Equity Action League, U.S. representative Patsy Mink of Hawaii, and U.S. Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana, championed Title IX, to fight the inequalities that women faced in educational institutions. It took two years, but they finally got it passed and Senator Bayh penned the famous words,
“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.”
Impact of Title IX
More Women in Sports
The effects of Title IX were almost immediate. In 1978 TIME Magazine reported that six times as many girls were playing competitive high school sports than there had been in 1970. And the University of Michigan reported going from one female varsity team in 1973 to 10 teams in 1978.
In 1972 about one in every 27 women participated in sports, today, the Women’s Sports Foundation reports that two in every five girls play sports. What’s more, since 1992, U.S. women have taken home a greater percentage of Olympic medals than the U.S. men in every Olympics except 2004. NBC Sports reports that women are the reason why the U.S. comes out on top in total medal and gold medal standings for most modern Olympic games.
“It is a profound thing to see the dominance of U.S. women, particularly relative to other countries around the world who may not have either the collegiate system and the education-based athletics system that we have in this country, but certainly not one that’s catering to women, the way we have through Title IX.”
— Sarah Hirshland, U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee CEO
More women in leadership
Title IX has also given women the tools to be successful off the field as well. Participating in sports has given women the skills to be successful in many different professions.
Since Title IX passed, Congress went from having 15 women to 146 women serving in Congress today. In 1972 only 3% of U.S. university professors were women. Today, 43% of full-time tenured professors are women, 54% of full-time professors are women, and 32% of college presidents are women. Furthermore, the U.S. has gone from having 7% of law and 9% of medical degrees awarded to women in 1972 to nearly 50% of both law and medical degrees going to women today.
“Title IX was fundamental in increasing scholarship opportunities for women. Because of it, I was able to learn a new language, travel across the U.S. get a degree without going into debt, and form lifelong friendships... I take the lessons I’ve learned in over 13 years of playing volleyball and apply them to my career as a marketer. Things like teamwork, work ethic, discipline, and perseverance —just to name a few.”
— Licie Leite, Marketing and Communications Lead, Octane AI
Women investing in women
As women have been given more opportunities, they have reinvested their success by giving opportunities to the following generations.
Just take a look at Billie Jean King, one of the greatest tennis doubles players of all time. She is probably most famous for beating male tennis player Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes in 1973. This match proved to the world that women were just as good, maybe even better than men at sports right after Title IX passed.
Billie Jean King took her success and created the BJK Leadership Initiative and co-created the Women’s Sports Foundation. She uses her platform to help create workplaces that are free of discrimination and inequality and to help women reach their full potential.
Another example is two-time Olympian alpine skier, Lindsey Vonn. Vonn started the Lindsey Vonn Foundation to help future generations pursue whatever they are passionate about. Her foundation does this by offering scholarships, education, and camps to help inspire confidence in the kids of today.
“It would be easy to think that Title IX’s impact ends when women stop playing... In reality, for the millions of women who have been lucky enough to call ourselves athletes, every day or otherwise, since 1972, those experiences were the first step on a more significant journey of inspiring the next generation to not only feel like they belong but to be treated fairly and equitably both on and off the court.”
—Brittany Coleman, Founder of Tough Cutie
Title IX today
It has already been 50 years since Title IX was passed into law, but unfortunately, many organizations are still not compliant. According to Opendorse, NIL (Name, Image, Likeness) compensation is still divvied up unequally. With 75% of NIL compensation among Division I athletes going to men.
That isn’t just true at the collegiate level, the difference in pay at the professional level is huge. Just take a look at NBA salaries versus WNBA salaries. The average male NBA player makes about $5.3 million a year, a female WNBA player makes about $130K.
The good news is that there has been (slow) progress. Athletes like Serena and Venus Williams, and Naomi Osaka have been very vocal about the difference in pay for female athletes. And brands have been taking notice.
In 2021, Michelob Ultra made a $100 million commitment to increase the visibility of women in sports. They also announced in May of 2022 that they had a five-year partnership agreement with the Women’s Sports Foundation to help fund travel and training needs for high-level female athletes.
However, the most promising indications of progress are the 2016 and 2022 lawsuits that the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) won against the United States Soccer Federation (USSF). These lawsuits have given U.S. women's soccer teams equal salaries, bonuses, accommodations, play conditions, and per diems to that of their male counterparts.
Transgender competitors in sports
The newest debate when it comes to Title IX surrounds transgender athletes. The debate centers on whether it’s fair for trans women to compete in women’s sports. Each competition and even sport has created its own rules when it comes to trans athletes.
For example, World Athletics (the international governing body for track and field) has created testosterone limits on female athletes. While FINA (the international federation for administering water sports) has banned trans athletes outright. On the other end of the spectrum, the International Olympic Committee has stated that there should be no assumption that a trans athlete would automatically have an unfair advantage in female sporting events.
While this debate rages on, athletes like swimmer Lia Thomas, and runner, Caster Semenya are forced to take these organizations to court for the right to compete. While other trans athletes like Canadian women’s soccer team 2020 gold medalist, Quinn, and Olympic triathlon athlete Chris Mosier, continue to advocate for trans rights in athletics.
“Title IX was a huge stepping stone for generations who came before us, the pioneers who paved the way, and I see it as our responsibility as professional athletes to continue to open up those doors and make our sports more inclusive to not only women but all people of different backgrounds and gender identities.”
— Michelle Parker, Red Bull freeskier
The future of female athletes
These days, social media influencers have become modern-day celebrities. Even big brands like Boost Mobile have heavily invested in influencer marketing, because of the impact creator influencers have over consumers.
It’s no wonder that female collegiate athletes are using this to their advantage. Just look at athletes like LSU gymnast Olivia Dunne and University of Texas track and field Olympian, Taara Davis. They’ve used their influencer platform to leverage their NIL compensation, and are creating opportunities for themselves as creators after graduation. Olivia Dunne has already gotten sponsorships with American Eagle, Plant Fuel, and Vuori Clothing, and Taara Davis has gotten sponsorship from the luxury athletic brand, lululemon.
Matt Peek, VP at Parkside Collectibles and a leader in promoting the NWSL, explains how seeing these athlete creators has even affected his daughter:
“I have a teenager who has hopes of playing soccer in college and she has been born to a world where athletes she likes are communicating directly to her, teaching and reassuring her, and motivating her. For most, they are doing little more than living their lives and sharing short stories but the impact is massive. Because of Tiktok, Instagram, etc., today's female athletes are propelling tomorrow's [athletes] further than we can imagine. They share training, nutrition, strategy as well as the joys, thrills, and defeats - they are equipping the next generation with insight and wisdom beyond their (the viewer, fan) years and experience.”
As influencers for social change
Sixty percent of consumers buy products based on a brand’s stance on societal issues. Consumers want to advocate for the things they care about through their buying power. Along with that, athletes in the public eye are using their platform to advocate and raise awareness for the issues they care about and support brands that do the same.
For example, UCLA basketball player, Nathalie Chou, has used her social media presence to raise awareness to stop Asian hate. And in January 2021 most of the Tennessee women’s basketball team knelt during the national anthem in the wake of the attack on the U.S. capital. Lorelei Ritzert, Creative Director with the WNBA team the Dallas Wings had this to say about female athletes using their walk out onto the court as an opportunity to be activists.
“We’ve had athletes wear different graphic t-shirts with messaging about several different causes, from vaccine messaging, #FreeBG, Black Lives Matter, etc. This shows the people who look up to them that they are more than just an athlete and helps people think about the issues that they too should/could care about.”
Bottom line: Why is Title IX important?
Title IX has created many opportunities for women on and off the field. Fifty years after it’s been passed into law, there are still areas where equality is lacking. However, progress is being made. Cassie Abel, CEO, and founder of Wild Rye says it best:
“Title IX set [into] motion a series of opportunities for me along with a set of role models… having the opportunity to play lacrosse in college turned me into a confident person. One that wouldn’t shy away from making a difference in the world, starting a growing brand, and standing up and speaking out for the things I believe in.”