Equal Opportunity or Participation?
Four decades ago a landmark piece of education legislation was passed known as Title IX. The law states: “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.” This legislation was a watershed moment for the women’s movement that had started nearly a century before Title IX’s passage. One of the most obvious areas that this legislation enormously effected is athletics, in particular athletic programs associated within our institutions of learning. Male domination of the athletic world was the norm for decades at high schools and universities but Title IX changed that almost overnight. A key phrase in the law, “receiving Federal financial assistance” would have far reaching effects since many employers, institutions of higher learning, and private schools receive such aid. This would have major impacts on the institution of athletics at schools. In the world of athletics, Title IX is important because it provides the right to equal participation. This is not the same as equal opportunity. Like the Founding Fathers who chose their words precisely when writing the Constitution, so did the authors of Title IX.
The words participation and opportunity are critical to the discussion of athletics and Title IX. These words, although they may be similar, have two very distinct meanings and provide different outcomes when taken in context of athletics. Let’s first look at what might happen if the word “opportunity” was used instead of participation when viewed through the lens of equality.
First, there would be no separation between male and female sports, meaning all high school and collegiate sports teams would be co-ed. Having males and females on the playing field at the same time would cause problems with both the rules and...
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