Recently, I had the honor of working with Arthur Bryant, a public interest trial lawyer, to represent a group of Dartmouth College students, alumni, and parents affected by the school’s decision to cut the women’s golf, swimming, and diving teams. In the process, I learned more about Title IX, the federal law passed in 1972, which requires educational institutions—from grade school to graduate school—to provide girls and women with the same opportunities to participate in sports as boys and men.
As a Goffstown High School student in 1972, I gave no thought to the availability and quality of sports opportunities to female students including the facilities, equipment, and coaching. My primary sports interests were horseback riding and skiing, which, although I didn’t think about it at the time, I now realize have traditionally been gender neutral.
But team sports like soccer, field hockey, and lacrosse were either unavailable or poorly funded, especially at the grade school and college levels. When girls and women did compete, they were given little attention (unlike in recent years for the United States women’s soccer team, or the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team). Title IX changed all that, and I can see the difference in our own family, as my daughters Christina, Carla, and Linnea have benefited from great coaching and competition in field hockey, tennis, soccer, and lacrosse, as well as ski racing.
What are those benefits? As one court put it, female players “develop skill and self-confidence, learn team cohesion and a sense of accomplishment, increase their physical and mental well-being, and develop a lifelong healthy attitude.” Mayerova v. Eastern, 346 F Supp 3d 983, 997 (E.D. 2018)(ordered reinstatement of women’s tennis and softball teams).
These benefits last a lifetime. Studies show that the majority of women who have achieved success in fields such as business, law, and medicine participated in competitive sports in school. “Research shows that among senior business women in the C-suite today, 94% played sports, and over half played at the university level.” (fortune. com/2016/02/04/women-sports-successful/).
Under Title IX, the playing opportunities available to women must be proportional to the number of women students, compared to men. An analysis of the Dartmouth student body and teams showed that by dropping the women’s golf, swimming, and diving teams, they were very much out of compliance. However, it is not just a matter of numbers. It is the emotional blow to the women who were recruited and decided to attend the school because of the opportunity it would give them to participate in their chosen sport. As anyone who is passionate about a sport, or any activity, knows, it is central to identity and sense of purpose, and if it is abruptly taken away, the loss is devastating. The financial and emotional commitment students make to a school make it almost impossible to simply transfer to another school to continue competing.
Marie Mayerova, the plaintiff in the case I quoted, is a good example. She was from the Czech Republic and was recruited to play tennis. When Eastern Michigan University decided to cut the women’s tennis program, she was prevented from transferring to another school by the terms of her visa. The Dartmouth students, like the plaintiffs in Mayerova, were able to see a happy ending to their efforts, and at Dartmouth, not only did the school reinstate the women’s teams, they also reinstated the men’s lightweight rowing, swimming, diving, and golf teams which had been cut.
Another benefit of Title IX is that it has shined a light on the benefits to all students of fielding a wide variety of teams, not just the big money-makers like football.
I would be remiss, however, in crediting only the law for these successes. Equal credit goes to the men and women who volunteer (or accept low pay) as coaches and team supporters. On a personal note, I am thankful this November for the many New Boston and Goffstown parents who have spent countless hours coaching our children. People like Betsy Moody and Maggie Flansbury when I was young; and, when my children were young, Mitch Larochelle, Kevin St. John, Marc Gagne, Jon Morris, Dave Magee, Mark Clark, Tom Meighan, Eric Strand, Jeremy Penerian, Joe McGrail, Tim Leclair, Matt Trottier, Pete Tarrier, Pat Dutton, Pete Gaudet, Jen Lazott, Lynne Leclair, and all the moms and dads who brought food and drinks, assisted coaching, worked in the concession stands, and cheered the teams on. For you as well, we can all be thankful.