US History March 10, 2005
“They were revolutionaries, not even pioneers but revolutionaries, I mean they stood up and took a stand and they made a big difference“ (Mazzio). These words embody the true characters of the Yale Women’s Crew Team. In 1976, four years after Title IX was enacted, Yale women protested the unequal facilities for the men and women crew teams. The protest sparked worldwide attention and pushed schools to comply with the law. An act that demanded equality in women’s sports, Title IX, has helped women all over the country acquire opportunities to excel, where they otherwise may have not even been recognized. Title IX created many opportunities for women in the United States; however, the protests at Yale University served as not only a symbolic event for women, but also as a catalyst for the movement towards total equality women’s programs throughout the country. Even though there is still a lot of room to improve, almost thirty-five years after the law was passed, the progress in women’s athletics, women’s health, and even women’s self-esteem are evident.
In the late sixties and early seventies, when America was at the height of the women’s movement, Nixon signed a law that was included in the Education Amendment. Proposed by Patsy Mink, (the first Asian woman senator), Title IX reads: “ 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“ (Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972). In other words, programs that were given aid by the government had to allow both females and males equal opportunities in sports, meaning scholarships, teams and coaches. Although schools received a period of seven years to fully comply, during that time period they were required to show signs of change.
Ironically this section of the Educational Amendment was not meant to be a huge transformation by the people who passed it: “Hoping to kill a civil rights bill, conservative southerners in 1972 slipped in a measure that would give equal opportunity for women. However, Indiana Senator Birch Bayh and Oregon representative Edith Green, both Democrats seized the moment instead and pushed it through. Thus Title IX was born” (Hallman). To women who were craving athletics, Title IX gave them a new freedom. Colleges all over the country in 1972 had to begin to provide new teams and start to grant women scholarships for different athletic programs. This amendment was passed at the time when many women were just being admitted into the prestigious male dominant colleges, so there was a large amount of discrimination and lack of equality for women. Bill Clinton eloquently portrays the importance of Title when he states in an interview: “ This law accomplished what so many civil rights laws do-it unlocked doors and created opportunities for women” (Block, 22). Title IX effectively gave many women opportunities to participate in activities that they would have otherwise been pushed away from.
However, many programs, including Yale University (one of the most well known colleges in the country), did not comply with Title IX. In 1976, the women’s rowing team did not have any of the facilities that the men’s team had, and because they were not even showing signs of improvement, the college was going against Title IX. The men’s team would shower in locker room facilities, while all the women had to wait on the buses for them to finish. Chris Ernst portrays the situation in an interview when she argues: “ It wasn’t fair that our parents were paying the same tuition as the boys and yet we were not getting the same facilities “ (Mazzio). Not only were they not allowed access to equal buildings, but the men rowers on the team were also treating the women horribly. One rower reflected, “The worst thing was riding on the bus and hearing them talk about us” (Mazzio). The men would make sexist comments that would come back to haunt them later that same year. Because these strong females were “being asked to be athletes without dignity” (Mazzio), they decided to take a stand.
After one practice on March 3, 1976 nineteen women rowers marched into the Director of Physical Education’s (Joni Barnett) office. But this was not a normal plea for a change; these tenacious women altered women’s sports in America. After calling a New York Times reporter to record the event, the whole women’s crew team stood in her office, and in a silence that can only be thought of as an out cry, they stripped of there rowing spandex and displayed the words “Title IX” written in blue paint on their backs. Then Chris Ernst, their leader read a statement that began: “These are the bodies Yale is exploiting… On days like today the rain freezes on our skin. Then we sit on a bus for half an hour as the ice melts into our sweats to meet the sweat that has soaked our clothes underneath” (Mazzio). Her words conveyed how horribly they were treated and the conditions they were forced to accept.
This event spread throughout the nation and even the world in only a few days because of the press attention it received. The New York Times ran a few articles and even the Paris Tribune and the LA Times picked up the story. Because of all the publicity, “the protests sparked nationwide awareness of what fairness and compliance with Title IX meant.” (Mazzio) The New York Times article it made a point of describing what Title IX is, “ Title IX refers to a ruling by the department of Health Education and Welfare requiring equal facilities for women’s athletic teams” (47). By placing this background information on Title IX it not only gives the reader knowledge but it also is obvious that before this event not everyone knew about Title IX. These women put their issue into the limelight and because of this, it affected many more people then just themselves.
Both women and men took the event seriously and read about what was going on because Yale was such a well-known college. John Kerry described the importance: “When an old revered well thought of institution like Yale University confronts this kind of issue and they have to change, and they do change appropriately, it sends a message through the rest of the country” (Mazzio). America as a country paid an enormous amount of attention to what was going on in large part because it was happening in such an important place. Other colleges were worried that if such a risqué event occurred at Yale, then it might happen at their school as well; so more began to change their athletic programs toward equality for both genders.
The alumni at Yale, upon hearing of the harsh conditions, immediately started writing letters and calling the administration. Anger from graduates got Yale’s attention and the Yale Daily News reflects back on the alumni in a1998 article when it states: “ By the next season, a new 250,000 dollar addition to the boat house replaced icy waits with warm showers for the women rowers” (Erickson) If the event hadn’t been in such well known newspapers like the New York Times, these alumni wouldn’t have even known about what was going on, however because they found out they used their influence to help the women. Nine days after the event, the New York Times published an article reporting that plans for a new facility were being made. The follow-up article stated that people “voted unanimously to allow the women to use a 50ft trailer for showering and changing“ (41). This alteration proves how the women’s voices and actions made an astronomical difference in the cause for equality.
Through having such a controversial protest, the women forced the Yale administration to do something about their facilities. The fact that they striped in front of a New York Times reporter and an Athletic Director opened up eyes to the women’s strength and dedication. Chris Ernest reflected in the documentary, A Hero For Daisy: “ The deal was that they were just pretending we weren’t there and our protest was yoo who, here we are, deal with it.” Through their actions they pushed the school to make a decision about what they had to do. Carm Cozza, a legendary football coach at Yale, described his feeling on what the women did: “ The one good thing that came from that was it got out attention, they were going to be here whether we liked it or not and they deserved equality” (Mazzio). Even the football coach (often know for disliking Title IX) was impacted by their protests.
The women at Yale University took a courageous step that was one of many steps towards improving women’s athletics. After they protested and because they received so much attention, people realized that something needed to change in terms of equality for women in the athletic field. In the present, it is obvious that Title IX and numerous women’s sports events have forced female athletics to thrive. Through high school, college and even health, Title IX has uncovered new thresholds for women.
Almost thirty-five years after Title IX was enacted and thirty-one years since the Yale protest, women’s sports have grown tremendously. According to Curve Magazine: “ The numbers of women participating in college sports has jumped from fewer than 32,000 to 163,000 – an increase of more than 400 percent” (Block, 22). This information proves that Title IX truly altered the number of women playing sports. Also, in 2004 there were an average of 8.34 women’s teams per school, compared to 1972 when schools averaged only two. In 1978, when it was mandated for all schools to fully comply with Title IX there were 5.16 teams on average for every school (Title IX Facts Everyone Should Know). This data implies the Yale protests, in 1976, acted as a vehicle towards the improvement of women’s athletics. As schools were pushed to change by the enactment of Title IX and the reinforcement of the Yale protest, the number of women participating in sports grew tremendously.
Although the protest occurred at a college, the event and the presence of Title IX were also catalysts in improving high school athletics. Because high schools around the country have increasingly more opportunities for women who want to play sports, colleges are forced to give them just as many opportunities. In 1971 only 295,000 high school girls participated in athletics; whereas in 1999 an estimated 2,400,00 high school girls do (Mazzio). In just looking over the numbers, it is obvious that because of Title IX more women play sports. Not only has the numbers of girls playing high school sports increased, but the competition has improved dramatically as well. The Women’s Sports Foundation reported that “ One in every 2.5 high school girls now participate in varsity sports compared to one in twenty seven in 1972 “ (Title IX Facts Everyone Should Know). This data proves how dramatic the shift in women’s athletics has been since the enactment of Title IX and the women at Yale. Because high schools around the country have increasingly more opportunities for women who want to play sports, colleges are forced to give them just as many.
Title IX enforces equality for both sexes in college institutions; therefore, all universities are required to allow women every advantage that men obtain in terms of athletics. This includes team funding, scholarships, and number of people who actually partake in athletics. The Yale Daily News discovered that, “according to the NCAA and NAIA, women’s participation in collegiate sports increased 40.6 percent between 1981 and 1994. And the number of women earning varsity letters is still rising“ (Has the Playing Field Been Leveled?). This data portrays that after the Yale event in the mid seventies things started to dramatically change in the eighties through today. The Women’s Sports Foundation, which compiles much information about the progress, mentions, “Leveling the playing field has meant 372 million dollars a year in college athletic scholarship funding“ (Title IX Facts everyone should know). Emphasizing the constant growth of college sports for Women, the NCAA gender equity report found that since 1991, the number of women athletes in division in division I colleges has had a growth of 51 percent; while the male athletes have had an average loss of 17 percent. Also, the amount of college scholarships given to women has grown from 31 percent to 43 percent. However, the men’s scholarships dropped from 69 percent to 57 percent. Although these numbers are still not completely equal, even thirty-three years after the enactment of Title IX, they show a steady improvement for the growth in women’s athletics (22).
In the present, if women participate in sports they are much more likely to be healthy in mind and in physical wellbeing. Sheryl Swoops, WNBA All-star, reflected: “Title IX gave and continues to give women opportunities to compete and learn from sport. Women who compete in sports have higher self- confidence in their personal lives” (How Title IX Helped Me). Her words depict how helpful sports are to girls with low self-esteem. The Yale Daily News article quotes Thompson, an expert on the psychological impact of involvement in athletics: “There is so much confidence that people get from testing themselves in the athletic arena” (Erickson). His discoveries prove that Title IX and the catalyst protest at Yale not only increased participation, but also allowed many females mental stability. Women who take part in exercise (for four hours a week or more) could reduce their chances of developing breast cancer by sixty percent. (Title IX Facts Everyone Should Know) Also, “Physical activity appears to decrease the initiation of high-risk health behavior in adolescents girls. According to a 1995 survey of boys and girls ages 12-16, female adolescents high in leisure time physical activity are significantly less likely to initiate cigarette smoking” (Lopiano). As indicated by these conclusions, women who participate in sports are both mentally and physically healthier. Because of the 1976 Women’s Crew at Yale and Title IX, women are able to participate in more sports and therefore, according to this data, are more likely to be healthy.
Although Title IX and the women at Yale achieved many successes in giving women equality in sports, there still are many things in our nation that need to change. An ESPN commentator and a 3rd all time leading scorer basketball player at Southern Louisa University, Robin Williams eloquently agreed that: “ Title IX has changed the plane of women’s sports in college. I am defiantly receiving the benefits of it now. I’m young enough that I didn’t have to experience the strife that the pioneers did. I feel so lucky and so grateful to know that so many people worked hard to have that law passed. There is still a lot more to be done” (How Title IX Helped Me). This woman shows that even though Title IX and the women who sacrificed so much for the cause has helped her achieve equality in sports; everything is still not exactly equal. Male athletes collect 36 percent more scholarship money each year (133 million) then women receive 372,476,500 dollars (Title IX Facts Everyone Should Know). This much percent difference proves that colleges still have a lot of work to do. Ironically, at Yale recently the women’s softball team still has not received an equal playing field as the men. The Yale Daily News describes the conditions: “While the Yale Softball team play on a grass area behind the Yale Field Hockey Field with no lights and few stands, the baseball team plays across the street at Yale field – a professional facility it shares with the New Haven Ravens” (Erickson). This report portrays how colleges sometimes slip through the cracks and cause women sports to falter.
Title IX, a law that mandated complete equality in women’s athletics, and the women’s 1976 crew team at Yale, that pushed compliance to the law even further, were both crucial steps in the ongoing battle for female equity in sports. Although there are still many improvements to be made, and organizations that continue to give men more benefits then women, since the seventies women’s sports as transformed dramatically. The Boston Globe, on March 2, 2005 reported on one woman who did not have the opportunities that many girls have today. In this article Pat Corliss reflects on her days as “one of the most talented high school basketball players in New England, leading one school to a state championship and another to a league title” (Van Handle DI). Although I am not as accomplished as this woman was in high school, I identify with her love for sports. Throughout the article she describes harsh conditions and the inequality of women’s sports in 1974. The reporter, Judy Van Handle writes: “Girls who score and defend are in demand on recruiting list these days, but in 1974, the landscape was much different. Title IX had been in place for less than two year, and it would be a while before in generated wholesale changes” (Van Handle DI). Her words depict how, right after Title IX was enacting things didn’t change significantly until much later. For me and many other high school girl athletes Title IX has given us a future where there wasn’t one before. Now, girls are recruited for there athletics and if they are talented enough they will receive scholarships. Corliss did not have the same advantage. “Recruiters went to boys games and athletic scholarships where far off into the future” (Van Handel D1). I am incredibly thankful for the fact that not only Title IX was enacted, but also that women like Chris Ernst and the 1976 Yale crew team pushed people to comply with the law. Athletic opportunities have been handed to me, and because of this I have been encouraged to excel. Pat Corliss eloquently states: “The greatest things girls have today is an opportunity” (Van Handel D1).