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In Sports Opportunities, Women Still Lag


Though Title IX encompasses many aspects of education, most people associate the law with athletics. Title IX's been credited with opening competitive sports to millions of American girls and women. For more now, we're joined by Nancy Hogshead-Makar. She's a three-time Olympic gold medal swimmer, former president of Women's Sports Foundation, and she's now a professor teaching federal gender-equity law at Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville. She joins us on the line from Kenilworth, Illinois. Thanks so much for being with us.

NANCY HOGSHEAD-MAKAR: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: You were a gold medal swimmer in the 1984 Summer Games.

HOGSHEAD-MAKAR: I sure was - three gold medals.

SIMON: So, how did you become a competitive swimmer? Do you think Title IX played a role?

HOGSHEAD-MAKAR: Oh, no doubt about it. When I was 14 years old, I was actually ranked number one in the world. And a reporter asked at that time, they said, hey, you're going to train for the 1980 Olympics, which were three years away. And I said, well, sure, you know, don't women physically peak right around the age of 17 to 18? I knew women quit right around 17 or 18, but I just thought it was because their bodies gave out. Fast forward two or three years, and suddenly it was like in 1978, 1979, it was like a match got lit to the country and suddenly, whoosh, just lots of sports opportunities opened up. And I could've gone to college just about anywhere I wanted to go on full scholarship.

SIMON: Are there still barriers to women in sports, as far as you're concerned?

HOGSHEAD-MAKAR: In every measurable criteria women lag behind men, whether you're talking about number for participation opportunities - girls are about 1.3 million opportunities behind boys in high school and 50,000 in college.

SIMON: The benefits of participating in organized sports for men or women are so widespread you want them to be open to women, too.

HOGSHEAD-MAKAR: Absolutely. Because what Title IX has taught us is it's given us an opportunity to look at what a sports experience means for a kid. So looking at - what happens to those women who - do they get more education? Do they go into non-traditional fields? Are they in the workforce full-time? And the answers to all those are yes.

There's no reasons to think those same things wouldn't be true for boys as well but Title IX have given scientists and social scientists this opportunity to be able to study and be able to say from a causation standpoint that sports isn't just associated with better education, better long-term health, more full-time workforce, but it actually causes it.

SIMON: There has been a complaint that one of the maybe unintended effects of Title IX, when it comes to high school and collegiate sports, has been that whenever the millions of women who've been able to participate it's also meant quotas and the curtailment of sports that are important to people but considered relatively minor. And I'm thinking of, for example, of fencing and wrestling.

HOGSHEAD-MAKAR: I have a couple of responses to that. One, is that for both boys and girls sports participation are at all time highs for both high school and college. So this idea that women sports are taking away from men's sports is just empirically not true. My second response is that I have three beautiful children. I have a boy who's 11, twin girls who are 6. When my son was born for those first five years he enjoyed the royal treatment. He got all of our attention, all of our resources. When the girls came along he got less. Now, he's not being discriminated against because of his gender; he has to share family resources with a bigger pool of people.

So it's unethical for schools to blame Title IX when there is some kind of budget crisis and they do have to cut something, any more than it would be unethical for me to blame my daughters to my son when he says, hey, how come I don't get to play another sport?

SIMON: Eleven and 6 is still fairly young but do you foresee your children becoming athletes?

HOGSHEAD-MAKAR: Oh, absolutely. I think it is one of the most important things...

SIMON: Well, they are the son and daughters of an Olympic gold medalist, but...

HOGSHEAD-MAKAR: Right. I think I'm going to do with my kids exactly what my parents did with all three of us kids, which was we don't care what sport you play, but you've got to find one. The most important thing that I got out of my swimming career is not the gold medals; the most important thing I got is that I did it.

I went to practice on days that I did not want to with every cell in my body. But I was committed to something bigger than being in a good mood on any one particular day.

SIMON: Nancy Hogshead-Makar is an Olympic gold medalist and law professor at Florida Coastal School of Law, speaking with us about the impact of Title IX. Thanks so much.

HOGSHEAD-MAKAR: Thank you very much for having me on.


SIMON: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.