You have to be of a certain age — pushing 55 or more — to really remember the tussle over what is now known as Title IX. It became law in 1972, an age when women weren't allowed into some colleges and universities, were denied equal access to sports programs and dinosaurs still roamed the halls of Congress and university campuses across the country.
There were also, however, enough determined men and women to push through legislation that forbade gender discrimination at schools that got federal aid; Title IX flung open the doors of higher education to women and, almost as an afterthought, changed the male-dominated culture of American sports.
Now, girls play basketball and volleyball and run track and play tennis and golf at the high school level; women play basketball and volleyball and more in college, and there's professional women's basketball, worldwide tennis and big-time golf. Women earn big bucks as jocks and pull in tens of thousands in endorsement deals, just like the boys.
That's a long way from 1972 in more ways than one. Women have not only established their equality in the classroom but have fully embraced the notion that sport, in all its variety, is a way to build not only the body and the mind, but also the self-discipline and self confidence that comes from competition.
Though Title IX began life as a way to force equal access to education — especially in medical and law schools — its impact on sports can't be denied. There are nearly 10 times as many female players in intercollegiate athletics as there were in 1972; the number of girls in high school sports has jumped nearly 1,000 percent. Pre-Title IX, just one in 27 high school girls played organized sports. Now it's close to two in five.
The number of women playing intercollegiate sports has risen more than 600 percent, from less than 30,000 to more than 186,000. That number is still dwarfed by the nearly 250,000 men who participate in National Collegiate Athletic Association sports, but it's still an incredible change.
Title IX's impact off the field is even more dramatic. In 1972, just 7 percent of the law degrees and 9 percent of the medical degrees went to women; today, nearly half those degrees go to women.
The dinosaurs may still long for the days of Bear Bryant, Woody and Bo, but the girls are too busy playing basketball and golf to notice.