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IX AT 50: On this anniversary — how 37 words changed everything

“Those of us that have grown up with this history know we have a lot of progress to still make.”
Published: Jun. 23, 2022 at 7:25 PM CDT
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June 23, 1972, President Nixon signed Title IX into law, prohibiting sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funding. Title IX has largely been considered the springboard for high school and collegiate women’s sports to get where they are today — but the fight for equality is far from over. Every Thursday night at 10:00 p.m. leading up to the 50th anniversary of the law’s passing, 13 Sports will honor the women who changed the game for girls’ and women’s sports in Kansas.

“IX at 50: The Trailblazers of Women’s Sports in Kansas”

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - 50 years ago today, 37 words changed everything.

President Richard Nixon signed Title IX into law, prohibiting discrimination based on sex in educational programs or activities that receive federal funding.

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.

Title IX

Prior to the law’s passing, opportunities for girls and women in sports were limited — if they existed at all.

“I had all these doors open, all these paths open if I was a young boy, but I didn’t have those same doors and some paths open if I was a young girl,” Billie Jean Moore, head coach of the 1976 USA women’s basketball Olympic team, said.

“It’s been a little frustrating to think if I’d been born 50 years later, what my opportunities as an athlete could have been,” Linda Hargrove, an assistant on the 1992 Olympic basketball team, said.

Over the last year, we’ve spoken with a different trailblazer each week who changed the game for women’s sports in Kansas: from ages 22 to 89, sports from racquetball to basketball, high school athletes to Olympians.

Women like longtime KU women’s basketball coach Marian Washington, who stepped in as a leader in college sports one year after Title IX’s passing.

“You had to constantly qualify that you belonged and that you had a right to exist,” she said. “It was that tug of war. I never knew whether it was because I was a woman or because I was African-American — or both.”

Women like Margaret Murdock, who joined the men’s rifle team at K-State in 1960 and won two Big Eight championships. She’d go on to become the first woman to ever medal in shooting at the Olympics.

“‘Oh yeah, if the U.S. is dumb enough to put a woman on their team, you go right ahead. No problem,’” she remembers being told. “So, ‘Okay, you guys said it.’ We did that before I shot even one bullet outside of the U.S.”

Title IX gave women in sports legal backing in their fight for equality, but the switch didn’t flip overnight.

Then-NCAA executive director Walter Byers called the law the “possible doom of intercollegiate athletics.” For the next decade, women’s sports at the college level were governed by the AIAW: a league by women, for women.

Participation numbers and opportunities for girls and women have skyrocketed since the law’s passing. In 1972, roughly 294,000 girls played high school sports. That number has reached 3.5 million in recent years.

Still, inequities remain. A recent NCAA report, The State of Women in College Sports, highlights continued disparities.

Women hold just one-fourth all NCAA head coaching and athletics director positions, and Division I athletic departments are spending twice as much on their men’s programs than they are on women’s programs.

“We can’t quit saying, ‘Hey, this needs to be better,’” longtime Wichita State administrator Becky Endicott said.

“Let’s be persistent,” Theresa Becker, former USA Handball team member, said. “Let’s not back off. Let’s keep pushing for better. Let’s keep pushing for quality.”

“Those of us that have grown up with this history know we have a lot of progress to still make,” Final Four coach and former KU player Cheryl Burnett said.

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