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Sporting Chance documentary celebrates Title IX anniversary

June 23 marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX—a law that paved the way for equity in educational and athletic opportunity. In celebration of the landmark legislation, the NCAA has developed a documentary, sponsored by Northwestern Mutual, airing on ESPN2 on June 23 at noon as part of the network’s celebration of the milestone.

“When reflecting on great moments of 20th century civil rights history, certainly 1972 and the enactment of Title IX was a defining point,” said NCAA president Mark Emmert. “Title IX is the Magna Carta for women in higher education. It provides for women what had previously been denied – opportunity.  Because of Title IX, my daughter has more opportunities than my wife had available.  And my granddaughter, more than my daughter.”

The documentary, Sporting Chance, will feature commentary from Title IX trailblazers, such as former NCAA President Judy Sweet, Christine Grant, and former U.S. senator Birch Bayh who introduced the law after inspiration from his first wife, Marvella. The straight-A student and debate champion had been denied entry to Virginia with the explanation “women need not apply.”

Other women, such as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former student-athlete and tennis legend Billie Jean King, Olympic gold medalists Julie Foudy, Donna deVarona and Nancy Hogshead-Makar and sports columnist Christine Brennan share the personal impact Title IX had on their lives.

“It’s difficult to fully describe the incredible impact Title IX has had on educational opportunities for girls and women in the past 40 years,” Sweet said. “First and foremost, career opportunities have grown from being a teacher, nurse or secretary to being almost unlimited.  In respect to intercollegiate athletics, the change has been similar.

“Prior to Title IX, there were few organized sport opportunities for girls and women. Title IX was the golden key that opened the door for girls and women to dream big dreams and know that with hard work, those dreams could come true,” she said.

Hogshead-Makar, currently a gender equity activist and professor at Florida Coastal School of Law said Title IX empowered her to pursue her education. She was the first woman to receive an athletics scholarship at Duke in 1980.

“Because of Title IX, it’s important to remember that not only did I get a college scholarship, but before Title IX women were not being admitted into colleges,” she said. “So, I also got a college degree because of Title IX and I got it paid for with a full scholarship and I got to swim through college. That’s just never something that should be taken for granted.”

Theresa Moore, whose company T-Time Productions produced License to Thrive a similar documentary celebrating the 35th anniversary of the law, points out, however, that 40 years after the passage of Title IX there is still work to be done. “Some of the blatant discrimination that existed when the legislation passed in 1972 has been eliminated but there are still gender disparities in the courtroom, executive suites and locker rooms that still need to be addressed and corrected,” she said.

Moore said she hopes Sporting Chance, like License to Thrive, will continue “to educate people about the Title IX legislation, its wide-ranging impact and influence in addition to the challenges the legislation will encounter in the future.”

While the NCAA does not administer Title IX, the Association expects its members to adhere to state and federal gender equity laws. Programs, such as the Equity and Inclusion Forum, the NCAA Convention, Regional Rules seminars, conference and school meetings, and extensive online resources such as the Equity and Title IX Manual are attempts by the Association to support its member institutions in fostering opportunities for women at every level.

“Many of the values that Northwestern Mutual stands for, including perseverance, earned success, and doing the right thing are similar characteristics of more than 186,000 female NCAA student-athletes today,” said Northwestern Mutual Vice President of Marketing Conrad York.

The NCAA has sponsored women’s championships since 1981 and currently offers championships in 20 sports to more than 26,000 female student-athletes. Since the NCAA Gender Equity Task Force of 1992, the NCAA has tracked women’s opportunities through several research reports, managed an emerging sports program that has seen four sports move to championship status.

“The NCAA has worked hard in the past 20 years to educate and prod the membership to embrace and enforce Title IX,” Sweet said. “I hope that we don’t have to wait another forty years to celebrate a truly level playing field for our male and female student-athletes.”