Title IX and the Women's World Cup

Watching the Women's World Cup, and the incredible U.S. quarterfinal win Sunday against Brazil, I am reminded just how important Title IX has been to the women's movement, and for me personally as a woman.
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In the nearly 40 years since its passage in 1972, Title IX has been consistently under fire from a wide range of critics.

Like the Equal Rights Amendment, it uses simple language to level the playing field for women and girls:

"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 meant that schools receiving federal money had to treat female sports the same as male sports. Some schools used this as an excuse to get rid of under-performing men's sports rather than provide more for women. But that's not the fault of women, it is the fault of short-sighted and sometimes sexist school administrators.

Watching the Women's World Cup, and the incredible U.S. quarterfinal win Sunday against Brazil, I am reminded just how important Title IX has been to the women's movement, and for me personally as a woman.

I played Little League with the boys in 1975, just three years after Title IX began, and I didn't have to fight my coach for the right (even though Title IX did not apply to the league). I played softball in high school, and even though we had fewer resources than the boy's sports, we still had the right to play.

I also started playing soccer around 1978, not in high school, but on a private club team through the network of German soccer clubs in Chicago. (As a Jewish girl, that presented its own issues for me.) The "girl's" teams were always junior to the men's and boy's teams, no matter how good we were.

I eventually transferred to the Schwaben club, and it changed by life. Our coach was Julius Roth, who had escaped from East Germany decades earlier as a youth, and now was raising four girls, all who played soccer just as their father had. Mr. Roth and his family (his wife Elsie, daughters Karen, Marion, Lori and Diane) dreamed of going to Germany, and our team set out on two years of fundraising to be able to travel with the Roths and play some serious soccer in West Germany.

We were among the top women's soccer clubs in the Midwest, and had traveled around the region to play, so it was not unusual to think we could travel further. Sports had given us the confidence to think big.

Eight years after Title IX, in 1980, I was 17 years old and playing right half-back for Schwaben as we lived with and played against women's teams in West Germany. (Germany was not reunited as one country until a decade later, in 1990.) It was an amazing journey for our team, and living with the other teams added another dimension to our trip. And it happened 11 years before the Women's World Cup was first played in 1991.

Soon after the Schwaben team went to Germany in 1980, a German team came to Chicago to play. Pictured are the Schwaben and German team members and coaches posing together after a match in the Chicago area, early 1980s.

We played eight games in the West German cities of Hamburg and Hanover, and the German media covered the matches extensively. As we won match after match, the media attention, and focus of German coaches, grew more intense. But even an all-star team Germany put together for the last match was not enough to defeat us; we won all eight of our games that summer of 1980.

My life, and the lives of my teammates (even those who couldn't make the trip) were forever changed by playing women's sports. Our winning in Germany was a highlight of my life, but it was not because we played soccer and just happened to win. It was because sports has a way of building skills you need in life.

Among those skills that Title IX has directly changed in the lives of millions women and girls:
  • A confidence in your body and your mind.
  • The ability to come back after losing.
  • Working hard for a result.
  • Living a healthy lifestyle through athletics.
  • And most important, especially in team sports, you are working together as a group, depending on others, helping others, and succeeding in achieving a combined dream.

We may have failed as a country to pass the ERA, but Title IX had its own critical role in the women's movement. This is true even for those women who did not play sports, but saw brave women such as Billie Jean King fight for equality on the tennis courts, among sponsors, and in the media.

Four years ago, as the Women's World Cup was being held, our Schwaben team held a reunion. Looking at some of the players, I knew several of them would have played on the World Cup, if it had just happened a few years earlier.

But I also realized that our games in Germany were played on the historical backs of generations of women who never were allowed to play sports. That we were lucky to be able to play soccer at all, and even more fortunate to travel to another country to play our own mini World Cup.

Title IX is under constant threat by politicians and some men's sports advocates. Sports programs as a whole are increasingly seen as an expense schools can't afford. Except for sports such as football and basketball, some men's sports are also at risk.

If most school sports go away, and if Title IX is gutted, it would have a negative impact on the next generation of girls and women, and on our country as a whole. Women's sports are not just sports, they build skills we need as a culture. It's not about winning, it's about being able to play the game.

See http://www.fifa.com/ for details on the Women's World Cup. The U.S. Women had an incredible come-from-behind win Sunday over Brazil to advance to the semi-finals vs. France Wednesday morning, while Japan plays Sweden later that same day. Unfortunately, host country Germany lost and will not be advancing.

Tracy Baim is publisher and executive editor of Windy City Times newspaper.

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