Maya Moore has never lived in a world without women’s basketball being a part of the Olympic Games. In fact, in the five Olympic Games held in her lifetime — dating back to 1989 — the United States’ women’s basketball team has won the gold medal four times.
She has never lived in a world without college basketball scholarships for women and, during much of her lifetime, there have been professional basketball leagues for women. Moore herself has been able to take advantage of these givens in her world, playing for the Division I University of Connecticut Huskies as a scholarship player, winning a pro title with the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx and representing the United States at the 2010 FIBA World Championship for Women. She has been named to the U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team that will compete this summer in London.
“I can’t really imagine growing up in a world where someone said, ‘No, you can’t play basketball because you’re female,’” said Moore, who was recently interviewed at an Aspen Institute Title IX and Beyond meeting (watch it here). “There are so many ways my life would be different.”
Moore, who turned 23 this month, can’t imagine it, but indeed there was a time when that was the case. That all changed 40 years ago — on June 23, 1972 — when President Richard Nixon signed Title IX into law. Title IX begins: “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.”
To show how far things have come for women and the sport of basketball in particular, consider this: On June 20, the White House will celebrate the 40th anniversary of Title IX, and among the featured panelists is Laurel J. Richie, the president of the WNBA. The White House Council on Women and Girls will host an event that will focus “on the Administration's support for Title IX in athletics and education,” and will include women and men whose lives have been impacted by the passage of this law.
Several Team USA athletes will be recognizing the 40th anniversary of Title IX on the playing field on June 23. The U.S. women's field hockey team will be playing its final Olympic tune-up match against Argentina in Virginia Beach, Va., and the Women's National Softball Team will face Canada in what's being billed as a "Title IX Anniversary Celebration Game," in Oklahoma City, Okla. Both games will be televised nationally (the field hockey game will be aired on NBC Sports Network and the softball game will be broadcast on ESPN.)
The Olympic Movement is one of the few areas in sports in which women have been showcased under the bright lights long before Title IX and other similar measures. Although there might not be complete equality in the Olympic Games — for example, women’s ski jumping was just added to the Olympic Winter Games, and, even with its addition, there are fewer events for women than in men’s ski jumping — female athletes have been included in the Olympic Games since 1900.
This summer in London, with the addition of women’s boxing to the Olympic program, the Olympic Games will feature women competing in all the same sports as the men. The United States will send three women, Claressa Shields, Marlen Esparza and Queen Underwood, in addition to nine men, to London in the three weight classes available to women in the Olympic Games.
In addition to the hundreds of women who will represent the United States in the Olympic Games this summer, there will be numerous other women who will compete at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, some of whom are military veterans.
Many U.S. Olympic athletes are indebted to their predecessors, the Billie Jean Kings and the Suzy Chaffees of the world, who helped transform the athletic world into a place where women could compete in high school and college — and, for some, even the pros and the Olympic Games. They played key roles in getting Title IX turned into law. Billie Jean King, the professional tennis player and founder of the Women’s Sports Foundation, also will be at the White House on Wednesday.
“Title IX had a tremendous impact on my career,” said Natalie Coughlin, who was born a little more than a decade after Title IX went into effect. “Had there not been Title IX, I probably would’ve retired at the age of 16.”
Thank goodness for Coughlin and her contemporaries that the law was put into place. Instead of retiring from swimming when most teens start driving, Coughlin went on to star at the University of California-Berkeley and, so far, has earned 11 Olympic swimming medals. She is 29 now and, pending her performance at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Swimming beginning June 25, there is a good chance she will compete in her third Olympic Games in London.
One of the most prominent figures in the field of Title IX legislation is another Olympic swimmer: Nancy Hogshead-Makar. A three-time gold medalist and a silver medalist in the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games, Hogshead-Makar was just 10 when Title IX became law. She has little recollection of what a significant moment in time that was back in 1972, but she has made up for lost time in becoming an attorney who specializes in Title IX cases. Hogshead-Makar is also heavily involved with the Women’s Sports Foundation as its senior director of advocacy.
“Little did I know how it would change my life’s trajectory,” Hogshead-Makar said.
During the week leading up to the anniversary, Hogshead-Makar was scheduled to speak before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions in a hearing to mark the occasion. She planned to address the committee from three vantage points: as an Olympic champion, an attorney/law professor and as the mother of a son and two daughters.
“If you ever question whether your public service in passing a law makes a difference in the individual lives of citizens, look no further than the impact Title IX has had on my life,” Hogshead wrote in her prepared statement to the Senate.
The honor of representing her country and standing on top of the Olympic podium might have been dreams unrealized had it not been for Title IX. For starters, she would not have earned a swimming scholarship to Duke.
“If I had been a few years older, world records, swimming four hours a day, lifting weights and running, for 50 weeks a year would not have been enough to earn an athletic scholarship, and my career would have been truncated by four years, ending after the 1980 boycott of the Olympics,” she wrote.
Today, Hogshead-Makar has helped numerous girls and women gain equal footing in the area of sports in our educational facilities. And she has noted the direct benefits that suggest the positive impact sports have had on women. Studies have shown that girls who participate in sports will have more education, higher wages and more full-time employment than girls who are not involved in sports.
Of course, challenges persist. Women’s softball, which had been a part of the Olympic program in Atlanta in 1996, was eliminated after the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. There continues to be a push to bring the sport back to the Games, but so far, it has not been added. On the flip side, however, women’s boxing is on the docket in 2012 and women’s rugby and women’s golf will be added in 2016 when their male counterparts are added.
Many of the women who will compete in London know their road to the Games would not have been possible without the trailblazers who changed the American landscape back in 1972. The fact women can compete at higher levels in college has helped create a more competitive pool of athletes for the Olympic Games.
“It definitely impacted me,” said U.S. women’s soccer forward Alex Morgan, who added that she researched a term paper on Title IX while she was at the University of California-Berkeley. “I am really respectful of people who started it all, like Billie-Jean King. I am so lucky to have gone to college, to have a full scholarship, and I am lucky to make a living playing soccer.”
Morgan is just 22, and, even with all of the advantages she has had courtesy of Title IX, she knows there is more work ahead in the United States. In her sport, for example, there is the concept of keeping a pro league alive for women’s soccer.
“We all need to take a little more responsibility,” she said. “A league is very important for women.”
But Morgan, one of the youngest players on the U.S. team, knows that her generation is lucky to have had the likes of Michelle Akers, Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain ahead of her. And, hopefully, young girls will see Morgan and her teammates in London in the same light.
“We are so lucky that we had those pioneers,” said Morgan’s teammate, Carli Lloyd. “This has been such a passion of mine. Since I was in seventh grade, I knew this is what I wanted to do. Obviously, if we were all men, we’d be millionaires, but we are respected as women athletes, and, hopefully, there will be another professional league and we can continue to give people hope.”
Amy Rosewater is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.