The Public Interest

Sports, sex, and Title IX

Steven E. Rhoads

Winter 2004

THIS past July, the Department of Education reaffirmed existing Title IX regulatory policy, rejecting several changes proposed earlier in the year. Title IX supporters were surprised, delighted, and triumphant; would-be conservative reformers were bitterly disappointed.


Contentious from its inception, the 1972 law to end sex discrimination in publicly funded schools had become the subject of intense controversy when the Department of Education’s Commission on Opportunity in Athletics announced proposed modifications to it earlier this year. Women’s sports groups and feminists argued that several of the commission’s recommendations threatened to undermine Title IX’s central guarantee that “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.” Those in favor of reform, meanwhile, argued that the way in which Title IX has been interpreted by federal regulatory agencies and the courts has resulted in significantly decreased athletic opportunities for men. Reformers were cautiously optimistic that at least some changes were forthcoming.  Title IX reform was on the 2000 Republican agenda, and many prominent women on the commission supported reform measures, including a female coach, an athletic director, and a WNBA All-Star. 

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