Who Owns Sports? Dissecting the Politics of Title IX

By Martha Burk, cross-posted from On The Issues Magazine

Title IX has been a part of our body of law for 40 years, and it has been contested legally and politically almost continuously since it was enacted. Although it applies to all educational programs receiving federal financial assistance, sports programs have drawn the bulk of the political fire. Opponents say that it is a quota system that pits women’s sports against men’s sports, and that the law is responsible for the elimination of many men’s athletic teams.

Arguments against Title IX are based on two premises that are, in turn, grounded in cultural tradition: 1) Men and boys are the rightful “owners” of sports, and 2) Males are superior to females in athletic ability.

It is interesting to note that arguments against Title IX closely track those against affirmative action, with the built-in assumption that white men own the pool of jobs, and that any portion gained by other groups takes something from its “rightful” owner. This thinking is also the basis of claims that both programs have resulted in “reverse discrimination” against males.

In keeping with the cultural norm that men own sports, political opposition has centered on the notion that it’s a zero-sum game. Any benefit to women comes at a cost to men, objective evidence to the contrary. Men still have statistically higher participation rates in sports than women, and both men’s participation rates and the amount of money spent on men’s sports continues to rise. The number of girls playing high school sports has still not reached the participation rates boys had in 1971, the year before Title IX was passed.

Male Delusions Scapegoat Women’s Athletics

The frequent argument that expanding women’s opportunities leads to the elimination of men’s teams is another red herring. It has been shown that compliance with Title IX is not the primary reason that schools eliminate men’s teams; almost three quarters of schools that add women’s teams do so without eliminating with men’s teams. Sometimes men’s sports are eliminated because schools want to replace them with more popular sports. Some schools have eliminated men’s wrestling, tennis and gymnastics, but soccer, baseball and basketball have been added. Women’s sports have been similarly rearranged. Women’s gymnastics, fencing and field hockey have been cut and replaced many times with track, lacrosse and swimming.

 

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