June 23 marks a milestone anniversary for Title IX, the federal law that may be best known for its huge impact on women’s sports.
Title IX was part of the federal Education Amendments of 1972. It states:
“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.”
So what did this have to do with sports? Prior to the law’s passage, most schools provided competitive athletic opportunities for boys and men only. Now, because most high schools and colleges received federal funding, the law obligated them to create equal opportunities and scholarships for girls and women. This change had rippling effects on individuals, schools, and the culture at large, including the eventual creation of women’s professional sports leagues.
The protections of Title IX apply not just to athletic programs, but to a wide variety of other considerations including admissions, employment, housing, and sexual harassment. In 2021, the U.S. Department of Education released clarification that Title IX applies to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity as well. This law’s influence was—and continues to be—outsized on students and society.
For a deeper dive into the consequences of Title IX on sports, check out State, by Melissa Isaacson.
Set against a backdrop of social change during the 1970s, State is an important, compelling, and entertaining first-person account of what it was like to live through both traditional gender discrimination in sports and the joy of the very first days of equality—or at least the closest that one high school girls’ basketball team ever came to it.
In 1975, freshman Melissa Isaacson—along with the other girls who’d spent summers with their noses pressed against the fences of Little League ball fields, unable to play—entered Niles West High School in suburban Chicago with one goal: make a team, any team. For “Missy,” that team turned out to be basketball.
Title IX had passed just three years earlier, prohibiting gender discrimination in education programs or activities, including athletics. As a result, states like Illinois began implementing varsity competition—and state tournaments—for girls’ high school sports.
At the time, Missy and her teammates didn’t really understand the legislation. All they knew was they finally had opportunities—to play, to learn, to sweat, to lose, to win—and an identity: They were athletes. They were a team.
And in 1979, they became state champions.
With the intimate insights of the girl who lived it, the pacing of a born storyteller, and the painstaking reporting of a veteran sports journalist, Isaacson chronicles one high school team’s journey to the state championship. In doing so, Isaacson shows us how a group of “tomboy” misfits found themselves and each other, and how basketball rescued them from their collective frustrations and troubled homes, and forever altered the course of their lives. Supplemental educator materials are available from the publisher.