Addressing the Real Harms of Title IX Policy

In the Atlantic essay, “How Title IX Hurts Female Athletes,” Linda Flanagan and Susan H. Greenberg cite the prevalence of injuries and eating disorders, as well as the tremendous pressure to win games as evidence proving Title IX’s negative impact on girls. Those issues are serious and do deserve attention, but male athletes face the same challenges — and that’s a separate discussion. Flanagan and Greenberg fail entirely to illustrate real, direct harms to female athletes caused by current Title IX enforcement. They do exist — and it’s a shame the authors overlooked them, to the detriment of young women everywhere.

The real issue is that most activists, schools and officials ignore what the statute is really about — ensuring equal opportunity to participate in sports — and instead demand proportionality of male and female athletes in student sports programs. The difference is profound; the law guarantees a fair shot, but the enforcement demands a rigged outcome.

Let’s look at a few examples of erroneously-applied Title IX policy that do create real harm to women and men:

Gender quotas. Schools cut men’s teams to balance the numbers, but when they are eliminated in symmetric sports, women are actually negatively affected. At the most basic level, females miss out on the beneficial effects of inter-gender camaraderie and companionship when male teams are sent packing. When young women cannot practice with male counterparts, they lose out on chances to improve their competitiveness by pitting themselves against a diverse field of adversaries. Coaches at all levels, from high school to the Olympics, recognize that male practice partners improve their female athletes’ game.

Roster management. Schools favor women’s teams with large rosters to boost the on-paper totals of female athletes. That means administrators eliminate smaller roster sports entirely, and replace them with big-bench teams like bowling and rowing. Unfortunately, those sports have minimal interest at the high school level and therefore do not generate as much participation as the schools expect, nor a level of excellence that serves the student athletes’ personal development.

Lack of surveys. When schools manipulate the rosters, they often act unilaterally and allow no input from female students on what new, larger teams they should instate. Instead, schools should provide students with interest surveys to get more truthful indicators as to what teams they want (and would actually play on.)

Failure to recognize cheerleading. Competitive cheer, which is one of the most popular sports at the high school level, is not recognized by the government or the NCAA at the college level. This means girls are forced to choose whether they want to settle for club pom or dance, which exclude a gymnastics element, or whether they should quit a sport they’ve already become exceptional at. This is unfair to those girls who have dedicated years (or even just one) learning gymnastics, performing complicated stunts and forming and emotional connection to the sport.

Time for reform

Halting Title IX’s unintended consequences requires serious reform. Implementation of the law should respect individuals’ preferences and ensure that both male and female students have equal opportunities to play sports.

It does not, however, necessitate “mak[ing] the athletic experience more responsive to female sensibilities,” as proposed by Flanagan and Greenberg. This is patronizing to tough female competitors and does not account for those who have chosen to endure hardship and make sacrifices in order to dominate in their chosen sport.

The whole point of Title IX is to give women, who are indeed as competitive, talented and deserving as men, the chance to shine. But arcane policies, numbers games and backward-thinking gender politics actually stands in the way of female athletes getting the respect — and field time — they deserve. True and fair competition fuels self-respect, discipline, loyalty and creativity, qualities that American adults need, both male and female, long after their NCAA days are over. . Schools cut men’s teams to balance the numbers, but when they are eliminated in symmetric sports, women are actually negatively affected. At the most basic level, females miss out on the beneficial effects of inter-gender camaraderie and companionship when male teams are sent packing. When young women cannot practice with male counterparts, they lose out on chances to improve their competitiveness by pitting themselves against a diverse field of adversaries. Coaches at all levels, from high school to the Olympics, recognize that male practice partners improve their female athletes’ game.

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