In a few months, thousands of high school girls across the state of Minnesota will lace up their sneakers and begin practices for the 2022-23 basketball season.
Some of them will have heard of Title IX, but many of them are unlikely to grasp the significance of an event that took place 50 years ago – and none of them will have. witnessed firsthand the transformational impact a young Lindsay Whalen had on the Minnesota sports landscape.
Whalen was an excellent high school basketball player at Hutchinson, but it wasn’t exactly big news when she fulfilled a childhood dream by enrolling in U of M and playing for the Gophers. .
The headlines, however, were not long in coming.
Whalen has become the face of a once downtrodden and suddenly prominent program. In her four years at the U, attendance in women’s games increased nearly tenfold, and Whalen led the Gophers to what is still their only Final Four appearance. She went on to win four WNBA championships with the Minnesota Lynx, two Olympic gold medals, and played professional basketball all over the world. She returned to U of M as head coach of the Women Gophers in 2018, and earlier this year she was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
Without Title IX, signed into law in 1972 by President Nixon, Whalen’s life would likely have been much different.
Title IX, which was an update to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex in any educational program or activity receiving federal funding. Sports participation wasn’t a primary consideration when Title IX became law, but in the 50 years since then, we’d say Title IX’s greatest achievement has been to level the playing field for female athletes at the high school and college levels.
The ground, unfortunately, still needs to be leveled.
This week, Post-Bulletin reporter Abby Sharpe marked the 50th anniversary of Title IX with an in-depth three-part look at its successes and shortcomings. It’s a fantastic piece of reporting that includes stories from several Southeastern Minnesota women who took full advantage of Title IX as high school athletes in the ’70s and then as college athletes as well.
Such stories could probably be told of athletes from across Minnesota, which embraced Title IX better than any other state in the country. In 2019, USA Today relied on reports from the Fargo-Moorhead Forum to state that Minnesota leads the nation in girls’ sports participation per capita, with 49% of high school athletes being female.
This data prompted USA Today to call Minnesota “The Ultimate Poster for Women’s Sports Equality and Opportunity.”
But Sharpe’s report points out that as women’s varsity sports have grown, the percentage of female coaches has actually declined. Prior to Title IX, women coached 90% of women’s varsity sports teams. When universities were mandated by law to pump money into women’s sports, men entered the lead roles, with women sitting next to them as assistants.
This trend has reversed somewhat, and today the Whalen’s Gophers team is among the 42.7% of Division 1 women’s sports teams that have a female head coach. That sounds pretty good – until you consider that women only coach 8.6% of men’s Division 1 teams. Plus, not a single men’s Division 1 basketball team is coached by a woman. .
Minnesota is not immune to these troubling numbers. When two teams of high school girls face off on the basketball court or on the softball field, there’s a 50% chance that one of the head coaches will be a woman. But if the game is men’s basketball, baseball or men’s hockey, you will indeed have a very high chance that one or both of the coaches will be a woman. And football training, of course, remains a man’s job.
Other inequalities exist. Since Minnesota is currently suffering from a significant shortage of officials, umpires and umpires, you don’t have to be a genius to recognize that the quickest way to solve this problem would be to recruit more women for these important roles. Really, is it so far-fetched to think that at some point a boys’ basketball game in Minnesota could feature two female head coaches as well as a team of umpires that included two women?
Title IX is about equal opportunity in a large part of our society, and in the world of sport, it’s not just about players. These are coaches, assistant coaches, officials, athletic directors and trainers. It’s about opening – and widening – doors to career paths that were once almost exclusively reserved for men. White men, in particular.
While much progress has been made, new Title IX controversies constantly arise. In recent years, a burning issue in Minnesota (and Rochester) has involved girls playing on boys’ teams — and vice versa. Now, the national debate over transgender athletes has brought new scrutiny to Title IX, and we suspect Minnesota won’t be able to avoid this controversy for long.
And maybe avoidance is the wrong goal. Clarity and consensus are much better options, and just as Minnesota led the country in letting Title IX open doors for female athletes, perhaps we can pave the way for developing policies that keep competition going. loyal on a playing field that includes a growing number of athletes who don’t tick any of the “traditional” gender boxes.
Whalen’s alma mater could play a big role in this process, perhaps even on a national level. Since 1994, the University of Minnesota has been home to the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, which fulfills the dual mission of collecting data and advocating for women in areas such as pay equity for athletes, gender inequality in coaching and title. Compliance IX. As Title IX evolves, the Tucker Center will need to evolve as well.
Ultimately, the goal should be fairness, equal opportunity and a safe environment for all athletes. We owe it to the athletes of tomorrow – whether they are future professional stars or junior college bench warmers – to make sure the doors stay open for everyone.