The Misleading Single Story of Title IX

In his recent opinion piece, The Danger of a Single Story, New York Times Columnist, David Brooks offers insight into how simplistic narratives fall short of telling the whole truth.

Brooks writes, “American politics has always been prone to single storyism — candidates reducing complex issues to simple fables.”

Although he doesn’t mention gender politics, his point holds true when you look at  the simplistic narrative that is used over and over again to describe Title IX’s impact on athletics, which glosses over the complexity of the issue.

The misleading narrative goes something like this; ‘Title IX was passed into law in 1972 and caused millions of girls and young women to start playing sports.’ This single story doesn’t take into account numerous factors that influenced the expansion of female participation in sports. The most obvious and least acknowledged is the influence of millions of parents who encouraged their daughters to participate in sports because they understood the educational value of athletics.

Also, conveniently overlooked is the change in perception of athletics in American society that occurred in the 1970s. Remember the running boom? People saw sports activity as good for your health, and no longer viewed athletics as just for jocks with exceptional talent.

Finally, the most expansive growth period for high school sports for females came before the implementation of the controversial three part compliance test in 1978. (Even then, the three part test was effectively only applied to collegiate sports.) So it was more a shift in values than regulatory enforcement that drove the growth of athletic opportunities for female students in high schools.

Brooks adds, “You must embrace the approved story to show you are not complicit in a system of oppression.”

So true for Title IX. If you dare to speak of the need for reforming its flawed and outdated regulatory regime, you risk being labeled as someone who doesn’t believe that female students should play sports – so untrue. Many coaches who support Title IX reform, and see the harm caused by the gender quota, are fervent supporters of women’s athletics, often with daughters of their own who play sports.

The problem is not with the language of the law, but in how the U.S. Department of Education regulates it. Talking about complex regulations complicates the simple ‘single story’ that reporters like to repeat about Title IX, but understanding the three part test is essential to understanding the controversy.

The simple narrative of Title IX doesn’t make room for the whole truth to be discussed- that, in its implementation, it has effectively morphed into a gender quota. The real impact of Title IX on male athletes is entirely contrary to the language of the law- it incentivizes and permits schools to discriminate against males on the basis of their gender.

Brooks summarizes, “As in life generally, every policy has the vices of its virtues.” 



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