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Game Changer

June 23 2012, Katie Ann Robinson

LPGA players reflect and appreciate the impact of Title IX

By Katie Ann Robinson

On June 23, 1972, the United States Congress passed possibly one of the most significant laws for women in America.

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.” 

In just 37 words, the lives of women in this country changed far more than originally planned. Initially intended to give women an equal chance for higher education, the decree also strengthened women’s defenses for many more freedoms.  

Although the bill didn’t explicitly mention women’s participation in sports, Title IX is best known for opening the playing fields in America. Today, women in sports across the country celebrate the 40-year legacy that has transformed gender balance in science labs and sports arenas.

“What is most amazing about Title IX is that it wasn't specifically enacted to help promote women in sports,” says Paige Mackenzie, a six-year veteran on the LPGA Tour and 2006 University of Washington graduate.  “Its primary purpose, from what I understand, was to increase opportunity in all aspects of education.  It is fantastic that Title IX ended up being known as a sports-related law.  Its dramatic impact shows just how starved women and girls were for the opportunities to participate in sports.”

Statistics show that when the bill passed in 1972, nearly 300,000 girls in the U.S. played a sport compared to more than 3.4 million boys. In 40 years that number has grown exponentially as more than 3.1 million girls are now participating in sports. On the collegiate level, fewer than 30,000 women competed in a sport in 1972. This year, almost 200,000 female college athletes will participate on 9,274 NCAA teams.

There are currently more than 100 Americans on Tour who pursued golf at a collegiate level before trying to make it on the LPGA. For many, postsecondary education wouldn’t have been an option if it hadn’t been for their love for golf. School didn’t come so easy for Ryann O’Toole, but her skills on the course earned her a scholarship to play on UCLA’s Lady Bruins golf team.

“Title IX has obviously created more opportunities for female athletes, particularly in the collegiate world,” O’Toole said. “Being a collegiate player and having a scholarship to UCLA, I feel like without Title IX there wouldn’t have been those same opportunities. I think in a sense it’s great to have it and it helps numerous female athletes throughout the country in giving them the opportunity to at least further their education and their sport. They might not be planning to go pro but at least they have the opportunity to go to college and get an education. I look at myself and I got into UCLA. My grades were not up to par for UCLA but because of my sport, I was able to play there and I was able to get a quality education because of it.”

Title IX’s benefits have extended far beyond the U.S. with colleges searching internationally to recruit for women’s sports. LPGA players like Karin Sjodin from Sweden and Azahara Munoz from Spain were given the opportunity to attend topnotch universities in the United States because of their abilities on the links.   

The power of Title IX created a generation of strong and self-assured young women because of their participation in sports. With sports now rooted in their lives, the thought of being on the sidelines is absolutely unfathomable.

“I always think in January when the men’s Tour starts and the women aren’t playing, how weird it is not having women’s golf,” said Angela Stanford, a five-time LPGA Tour winner and 1977 graduate of Texas Christian University. “I can’t imagine back then when the opportunities weren’t as great for women athletes. It just seems like the world would be missing something without women playing sports. I can’t imagine my life without sports. I couldn’t imagine going to high school and then not playing college golf so Title IX has obviously changed my world. It would have been very difficult to just go to school.”

Aside from the obvious opportunities Title IX created, women have also absorbed some of life’s most valuable lessons through sports. Mackenzie declares that without sports, her life would have panned out differently.

“It is easy to say that without the opportunities that were provided by the passing of Title IX my life would be dramatically different,” Mackenzie says. “My career would obviously be very different, but more than that my life skills would have developed very differently, too.  Sports are so good for developing relationships, teamwork, time management, leadership, discipline and character that I would fundamentally be a different person if it weren't for my experiences in not only golf, but basketball and soccer that I played as a kid.”

Stanford agrees that the intangible benefits of playing a sport have helped shape her into the person she is today.

“I think sports teach all of us, especially young women, what it means to be responsible, to play by the rules and integrity and character and everything that comes along with that,” she said. “I’m very grateful to Title IX because it really has changed where my life has gone.”

The LPGA is in the midst of its 63rd season; the oldest continuing women’s professional sports organization in the United States. Although it surpasses Title IX by 22 years, the bill assisted with the Tour’s growth from its 13 founders to almost 500 players now.

Among those who transformed the game of golf for women are Nancy Lopez and Annika Sorenstam, who are both ranked in ESPN’s “Top-40 Female Athletes” since Title IX’s inception.

Today, the LPGA celebrates the women who have helped transform the sports realm for the past 40 years. With their success on the playing field, they continue to grow public support and inspire the lives of many young girls.

Top 40 Athletes - No. 4 Annika Sorenstam

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Top 40 Athletes - No. 24 Nancy Lopez

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Title IX is Mine: Angela Stanford, Laura Diaz, Wendy Ward, Christina Kim and Amanda Blumenhurst

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Topics: Player Feature, Lopez, Nancy, Sorenstam, Annika

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