Our View: Title IX opens world of opportunity
Saturday was a big day at Target Center in Minneapolis. The defending WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx, off to a record-breaking 11-1 start, squared off against the Chicago Sky, one of the best teams in the WNBA's Eastern Division. ESPN broadcast the game, and more than 9,000 fans turned out for an 11:30 a.m. tipoff.
As those fans entered the arena, many were offered a free T-shirt. Nothing unusual about that — giveaways are fairly common at professional sporting events. But this one was different. The shirt didn't have a Lynx logo on it, nor any reference to the WNBA, and featured just a small Adidas logo.
Instead, the shirt commemorated the 40th anniversary of the passage of Title IX — aka the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act — which specifies that "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." President Nixon signed it into law on June 23, 1972.
You'll note that the language of Title IX makes no reference to sports, yet it has opened up a world of opportunity to female athletes.
That was evident Saturday in Target Center, where the recognition of Title IX went far beyond the distribution of T-shirts. During breaks in the action on the court, Lynx players, including former Gophers star Lindsay Whalen, took turns appearing on the giant video screen, describing how Title IX has shaped their lives.
The crowd — including hundreds, perhaps thousands of female athletes-in-training — cheered loudly for the fast-breaking Lynx, but was even louder when expressing its approval of Title IX.
Of course, Title IX hasn't been without controversy. It has been subject to many legal challenges, and there still are plenty of people who point out that "balancing" the athletic options available to boys and girls has, in some circumstances, resulted in the loss of opportunities for males.
Overall, however, Title IX has had an overwhelmingly positive impact on the lives of millions of girls and women. In gymnasiums, on playing fields, in pools and arenas across the nation, girls today have the opportunity to flex their muscles, to develop the confidence, leadership and teamwork skills that help them throughout their lives, long after their playing days are over. Today more than 3 million girls are playing high school sports, compared to less than 300,000 in 1972.
The Lynx, led by Whalen's 25 points, 6 rebounds and 8 assists, didn't have much trouble with Chicago on Saturday and are the odds-on favorite to repeat as WNBA champions. They play an aggressive, fast-breaking style of basketball that is more than worth the price of admission. They're not just great women's basketball players: They're great basketball players, period.
If you attend a game, take a good look around you — the crowd, the light shows, the TV cameras and all the buzz that goes with professional sports — and think about how unlikely such an atmosphere would have been for a women's athletic contest 40 years ago.
As Whalen put it, " We've come a long way, but I don't think we can ever forget where we came from.''