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Two Roses and the Importance of Policy

This morning on NBC SportsWashington, Brian McNally wrote about a meeting between soccer player Rose Lavelle and . . . little soccer player Rose Lavelle. Seven-year-old Rose came to watch the Washington Spirit and its star player who had just returned from the World Cup

It’s a fabulous human interest story. And I’ll bet no one can read all the way to the kicker without tearing up.

But this story is important not just because it makes us feel good. It’s important because it marks a huge shift in opportunities for girls and women, all brought about by a policy decision made in 1972.

Title IX of the education amendments of 1972 begins with these words: “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.”

Now, education amendments are generally the stuff that only deep policy wonks can love. But I lived Title IX, and for me, it's not just business. It's personal.

I graduated from high school in 1967. So when I couldn’t really remember much about women’s athletics during my high school career, I initially chalked it up to the fact that at my age, there are a lot of things I don’t remember. So I checked with some classmates, and Barb Decker Asmussen, who still had all her old copies of the Arrow yearbook, confirmed my recollection.

In my high school, home to a strong tradition of men’s athletics, there were no women’s teams. Athletic girls – we had plenty – could participate in GAA – the Girls’ Athletic Association, which was an intramural club that according to participants mostly focused on tumbling. There was a group called the Purple and Gold Marchers, akin to today’s band Color Guard. And there was cheerleading (but the team did not compete interscholastically).

So we didn’t have any idea what it would even look like to be an athlete in college or the pros. In 1972, there were just 30,000 women participating in NCAA sports, as opposed to 170,000 men. There were no professional women’s sports leagues.

But the regulations for Title IX required parity in spending on locker rooms, medical treatment, training, coaching, practice times, travel and per diem allowances, equipment, practice facilities, tutoring and recruitment. And most important, for the first time, colleges also had to offer scholarships to women if they provided scholarships to men.

Today, there are more than 2.6 million high school girls participating in interscholastic sports. At the college level, the NCAA reports that 278,614 men and 216,378 women took part in NCAA championship sports. There are women's professional leagues in soccer, basketball, and hockey.

Which brings us back to little Rose. She doesn’t remember a time when she couldn’t buy a jersey with the name of her favorite female athlete on it. The last time the US Women’s team was not in the World Cup finals was before she was born.

I don’t know whether she’ll grow up to be a soccer player. Maybe she’ll shift to basketball . . . or dance . . . or debate. But she could. And on a hot night in Washington, she had no trouble at all seeing what that might look like.


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