When Title IX was signed into law 40 years ago this weekend, most people had no idea what an impact it would have on women's sports in America. And that's exactly what the architects of the bill wanted. That is the remarkable story told in a new documentary, Sporting Chance, which will air Saturday on ESPN2: In order to make Title IX the law of the land, its supporters had to keep the public ignorant of its potential for lasting social change.
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, a 36-word clause largely overlooked by the very lawmakers who passed the bill, requires equal access for women in all facets of education, most notably athletics. The section 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."
Simply put, the law means that public schools and universities must offer equal academic and athletic opportunities to men and women. To the generation coming of age today, this sounds about as radical as "equal rights for gay and lesbian people" and "providing men and women with easy access to contraceptives." But to a host of former lawmakers interviewed in the documentary, it was a seemingly impossible goal that took determination and a healthy dose of cunning by former Oregon congresswoman Edith Green.
As told through compelling first-person narratives in Sporting Chance, Green and Indiana senator Birch Bayh first floated the idea of Title IX in congressional hearings on equal rights for women in 1970. The measure was eventually added to the 1972 education reform bill, but it was generally thought to affect hiring and employment practices at federally funded schools.