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U.S. WOMEN'S NATIONAL TEAM

June 24, 2012
NOT JUST BOYS WHO GET TO PLAY
Brandi Chastain on Title IX impact

By Charles Cuttone
Executive Editor

40 years after the passage of Title IX paved the way for girls and women in sports, Brandi Chastain says “you still have to hold onto that and take care of it as if it was brand new, because a law is something that can be changed."
40 years after the passage of Title IX paved the way for girls and women in sports, Brandi Chastain says “you still have to hold onto that and take care of it as if it was brand new, because a law is something that can be changed."
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
If there are two seminal moments in women' sports since the signing of Title IX by President Richard Nixon 40 years ago, they may be Billie Jean King beating Bobby Riggs in a tennis match, and Brandi Chastain ripping off her shirt to celebrate a World Cup-winning penalty kick.

The first proved that girls could play as well as boys. The celebration showed the jubilation that came with winning a world title, and might also have shown that the country could care about women's sports, since Chastain celebrated in front of a sellout crowd at the Rose Bowl, and her soon-to-be iconic photo made virtually every newspaper in the U.S., as well as the covers of Time, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated.

But while women playing sports may be taken for granted now, those benefitting from Title IX may not fully appreciate what it took to get there.

"Athletes that are influential now in women's sports---the difference between those athletes and the athletes like Billie Jean King, Mia, or myself, things were not established when we started. Title IX had a huge impact on the foothold that we were able to have," said Chastain.

"When you speak of the law, there's validity to that already, and it give you a place to stand so, not that I knew it growing up, I am sure some people did. It just gave us the support that we need to continue."

Before Title IX, which mandated gender equality for any educational institution receiving public funding, few girls played sports. While the law was applicable only to school sports, it opened the door outside of academia as well.

"I did play with boys. I was really lucky, I played on a boy’s team in junior high, but I was lucky that I played in girls soccer, in a rec league that started in my neighborhood," said Chastian. "I didn’t have to play with boys, but I played with boys because they were the ones that wanted to play sports out of practice time and so forth. I didn’t have to, which was unusual in the mid 70s for girls in team sports."

Chastain says Title IX clearly changed the perception for women and playing sports.

"When you look at the playgrounds, when you looked after school, it was mostly boys participating. Now, at my son's school, I see tons of girls staying to play on the playground, whether it’s kickball or just being outside and being active. I think it's changed the perception of who gets to play. It's not just boys who get to play.

"The girls, they probably don't know why, they're too young to know. It’s the adults’ perception around them, that of course now they are going to encourage girls to participate in activities that were considered way off limits before."

Despite the obvious success of the law, particularly one in a country that was founded on the basis of equality, Chastain says she still sees detractors to it, those who somehow think sports for girls detract from sports for boys.

"It’s dumbfounding," she said. "I don’t understand in this day and age. You think, how is it possible to even have that perspective? But it makes me realize that you still have to hold onto that and take care of it as if it was brand new, because a law is something that can be changed and there are people out there who wouldn’t mind seeing it change. So you have to continue to let girls and young moms and even the dads of young girls be reminded of the law and how it really truly impacts them."

As much of an impact as Title IX has had on women playing sports, it has not translated into successful spectator-driven leagues for women. Two women's pro soccer leagues have failed in the last decade, and while it has survived since 1997, the WNBA has been largely propped up by the National Basketball Association.

"It's just such a hard landscape," Chastain said of the pro game. "As much as we love sports in this country, I find it exasperating to know that women's sports struggle so mightily, for not even a piece of the pie, but just to have a functioning league."

Something perhaps to work on in the next 40 years of Title IX.

   
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