Title IX (the Jackie Robinson Effect) Twenty-Five Years after Dodgers Icon Made History, Social Change Came Again on an Equally Impressive Scale

Article excerpt

Scholars have ways of describing what happens when a singular event spurs growth. One earnest paper describes it as "the stock of human capital determines the rate of growth ... and that integration into markets will increase growth rates."

In sports, we prefer to call it the Jackie Robinson effect. And there's a direct connection between what Robinson did in 1947 and what Title IX, the landmark legislation mandating equality in women's athletics and education, accomplished when it became law 25years later in 1972.

When the Brooklyn Dodgers icon and Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey broke the color barrier in baseball, it launched the greatest social migration in sports history. Baseball went from a lily-white sport to one that is as multi-cultural as the United Nations, and a lot more successful, too.

Sixty-five years after Robinson took his first at-bat, baseball historians lament that participation by blacks in baseball has declined. What they fail to recognize is that Robinson broke all racial barriers in sports, not just baseball.

Within a year of his arrival, the NFL opened its doors to blacks and so did the forerunner to the NBA. Time fully describes Robinson's impact every time you see a black athlete participating in a sport that was once without color, and usually without much fanfare at all.

And so it is with Title IX.

The architects of Title IX were fighting an educational system funded with federal dollars but paying little attention to the huge disparity in scholarships and opportunities for women. The focus on athletics came because it had the largest disparity, which is why Oregon congresswoman Edith Greene, educator Bernice Sandler, Hawaii representative Patsy Mink and Indiana senator Birch Bayh used sports as a strong and public crowbar to open the door to the legislation which mandated equality.

Greene, now considered the mother of education, balked when a congressman shrugged off education for women by saying they aren't responsible for feeding their families. Sandler's interest was growing the field of education. Mink joined the fight when her daughter was denied an opportunity to be class president, and Bayh, the consummate Democratic senator, was a champion against discrimination.

Little did they know how much social change they would launch.

Title IX created equity in all areas of educational scholarship and funding, but it hit sports the hardest. Women's athletics was an afterthought at best in 1972, virtually intramural, and only a handful of major NCAA universities began providing scholarships for women in the years immediately after '72.

The number of girls playing high school sports has grown from under 300,000 to 3.2 million. Title IX has leveled the playing field college scholarship-wise with the exception of the way football skews the numbers, but there's a greater dynamic than just that. The 40 years of scholarships raised the water in all areas of college success. It's perhaps the greatest victory that the number of women attending college has surpassed men.

Or, that in 1972, only 7 percent of women graduates earned law degrees and 9 percent medical degrees - and those percentages are now 47 percent and 48 percent, respectively.

"Other than the right to vote, no other piece of legislation has had a greater effect on women's lives than Title IX," said former Olympic swimmer Nancy Hogshead (Makar), who is a lawyer. …