Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) prohibits sex discrimination in any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. These 37 words of landmark legislation were not aimed specifically at sports – but Title IX was a game-changer nonetheless.

Title IX 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.

Advocates for girls’ equal access to physical education and sports used this clause to open the door for increased participation in school-sponsored athletics. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, just 1 in 27 girls played sports before Title IX, but today that number is 2 in 5. That’s more than 3 million girls in middle and high school athletic programs.

The huge difference in girls’ access to school sports paved the way for the hundreds of athletes competing and earning a living in today’s professional women’s sports, from the WNBA to the World Cup-winning USA Women’s National Team in soccer. By 2016, almost 300 women competed on behalf of the Stars and Stripes at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the most U.S. female Olympians in history.

The changes started with the fight for equal access, and the fight for equal pay in professional sports continues, championed in particular by U.S. Soccer star Megan Rapinoe. She and dozens of other elite athletes took the stage at the 2022 ESPYS to celebrate 50 years of Title IX and increased inclusivity.

Some have argued that Title IX created quotas that reduced boys’ and men’s access to sports, but studies show that participation rates for both male and female athletes have increased consistently since Title IX became law in the early 1970s. Surveys show that about 60% of high school students played on at least one school or community sports team in the past year, and more than 40% of them are girls, giving the youth sports market huge potential that continues to grow year over year.

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