Gender Equality in Sports

By Jacob Oldaker

Introduction:

There are five reoccurring areas relating to gender equity in sports. These topics include: “history of gender equity in sports and Title IX; gender equity in sport governance; gender equity issues in athletics; gender equity, sports participation, and Title IX; and gender equity in coed sports.” Each topic holds significance in the discussion of equity in sports and holds value in the discussion of social, ethical, and legal concerns that have been presented.

Gender equity has been an issue in society throughout history. Women have faced issues of equity in relationships, religion, careers, education, and for the purposes of this discussion, athletic opportunities. As of today, great strives have been made to further the opportunities available to women in sports. Despite the efforts, women still face issues in sports today. One of the most powerful tools today is Title IX that was enacted by the federal government to ensure “equal educational opportunities for males and females, but eventually it was used to create equal opportunities for women in sports.”

Title IX:

Title IX of the Omnibus Education Act was enacted in 1972 by the United States Congress to ensure that institutions were providing equal opportunities for male and female students at higher education institutions that received federal funding. The Title IX Statute 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”. Exceptions to Title IX include educational institutions that traditionally admit members of only one sex, institutions that train individuals for military service, and institutions whose compliance with Title IX would violate religious beliefs. Originally, Title IX did not specifically refer to athletic opportunities but subsequent interpretations and court cases have set sports to be upheld by this standard. The department of Health has developed a three-part test in reference to sports: (1) Are participation opportunities substantially proportionate to enrollment? (2) Is there a history and continuing practice of program expansion for the underrepresented sex? (3) Is the institution fully and effectively accommodating the interest and abilities of the underrepresented sex?

Results of Title IX:

Before Title IX, less than 32,000 women participated in intercollegiate athletics and 300,000 girls in high school athletics. As of 2016, there are 200,000 women in college athletics and three million girls participating in interscholastic athletics. Participation in college has risen over six times and ten times in high school. Title IX has been in existence for less than fifty years and is already changing the sports world for women. One of the biggest breakthroughs came in 2012 in the London Olympics where 44.3% of the athletes were women. This number was comprised of all competing nations but is important to show the steps the world is taking in creating equity in sports for women.

Many people are for equality in sports but there are also many counter arguments. For example, a recent study hypothesized that women are inherently less interested in sport than men. Three studies were conducted to determine if these ideas were accurate. The first study, The American Time Use Survey, consisting of 112,000 individuals, U.S. residents 15 years and older, from the years 2003-2010, found that females comprised 28% of those who participated in individual sports and 20% in team sports. The second study, Observations at Public Parks, documented a total of 2,879 sports and exercise participants at public parks at four U.S. locations, where it was found that females make up 19% of the participants in individual sports and 10% in team sports. The third study, Intramurals at Colleges and Universities, involved surveys of intramural sports registrations at colleges and universities in the U.S where it was found that women accounted for only 26% of registrations.

These results show that it may be possible that women are inherently less interested in sports than men but this is based on participation, not interest. So, the question remains of whether Title IX and its approach to equal opportunities to participate in sports based on equal interest is even a feasible argument. The current approach does not look at interest but instead looks at “money” and its allotment of financial aid to male and female athletes in proportion to their athletics participation numbers. However, treating males and females as equals in recruiting and benefits based on interest ratios from the studies mentioned above appears to still present some holes in the argument of Title IX.

A major problem continues to stem from Title IX in equal opportunities in sports when a university offers football. Football rosters hold one-hundred and five players. There is no single female sport that can come close to competing with that number. So, what do schools do? Men’s sports like soccer, tennis, track and field, and golf will be cut in an effort to accommodate the size of football rosters. A data set on Division II universities without football showed that these schools were meeting Title IX goals and expenditures by gender were equal.

Personally, I find this to be one of the biggest issues of Title IX. As a former division II soccer player, our school was in constant battles with Title IX requirements because our school offered football as a male sport. Since its enactment, more than 400 men’s athletic teams have been eliminated by universities attempting to become NCAA compliant. The most common sports to be cut include: wrestling, swimming and track and field. Although this was not the intent of Title IX, it is a very real trend today. As I mentioned, Title IX does not account for football individually and its outlier status in regard to roster space. Title IX needs to be adjusted to not include football in its compliance rules with the laws. Football over burdens Title IX restrictions but they do not have to. There are alternatives that include: taking football out of the equation or counting every third athlete as an equal to a member of the football team. I believe the easiest solution will be to remove football from the discussion of Title IX because women’s programs will continue to grow and lower revenue, men’s sports will not be cut as a matter of compliance.

Summary:

Originally Title IX was enacted in 1972 by the United States Congress to ensure that institutions were providing equal opportunities for male and female students in higher education. Further, while it did not specifically refer to athletic opportunities when it was first developed, subsequent interpretations and court cases set the tone that opportunities in athletics are also to be upheld to this standard. Sport institutions and common beliefs have institutionalized masculinity as the operating principle within sport, which strengthens the male dominance of the sport world today.

Similar to sport leadership, women in athletic participation are affected by the same masculinizing effects attributed to the norm of sports. A common issue women face is gender marking, which represents male athletes and men’s sports as being the norm, and women’s sports as “other”. This type of generalizing is commonly seen in professional sports in the United States today.

Despite some setbacks and hurdles, Title IX has had a major impact on the increased opportunity for women to play sports as can be seen from an increase in women who participate in collegiate athletics from 32,000 women to over 200,000 women since 1972. Further, there was an increase in high school athletics from 300,000 girls to three million. Even though Title IX has caused a significant impact in sports participation, a study found that women are still participating significantly less than men in athletics. There are many factors that could contribute to this current trend. Whether it is that men are generally more interested in sports? Or is it that most universities offer football as a male sport? Studies of the implementation of Title IX need to closely analyze this data set to determine ways to further the athletic opportunities of women.

Conclusion:

Title IX has had a significant impact on society in increasing the opportunities for women to participate in sport; however, something that it has not done is help to remove the gender stereotypes and masculine influence of power that still reigns over sport governance boards and athletic sports. Understandably, women are less likely to participate in sports towards the end of high school due to the increased recognition of gender norms and derogatory comments received from male peers for wanting to participate in sports, or for being successful at masculine sports. Society as a whole need to understand and adjust their beliefs on women in sport. Further research could examine the impact of having a female coach of a male sports team on participation by males, and the impact of having a male coach over a female sports team, and also a female to female sports team as well as a male to male sports team to examine the effects on sports participation of having like and opposite gender coaches.

As we go forward, “it is necessary to reduce the stereotype that women are not equal to men in sports and sports governance because although women are mostly given an equal opportunity, they are still less likely to participate in sports or to be given equal opportunities in sports governance because of gender discrimination and gender stereotypes.”

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Sources:

  1. Joshua A. Senne, Examination of Gender Equity and Female Participation in Sport, The Sport Journal, (Feb 2016) http://www.icsspe.org/system/files/Senne%2C%20J.A.%20-%20Examination%20of%20Gender%20Equity%20and%20Female%20Participation%20in%20Sport_0.pdf
  2. Laura J Burton and Sarah Leberman (eds), Women in Sport Leadership: Research and Practice for Change (2017).
  3. 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681-1688