USA! Title IX! USA! Title IX!

I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that people (American people) were pretty happy about last night’s USA’s 5-2 win over Japan in the Women’s World Cup Final. And rightly so. It had so many of the qualities of a really satisfying victory: it wasn’t a sure thing; it was redemptive; and it was a total smack down.

I’m bandwagon on all this. I played soccer. I like soccer. I like watching soccer. But I don’t – not until it’s World Cup time and until the US is playing. And, really, I should invest more time. These games have delivered some of the greatest sports moments I’ve seen live. Last night was no exception. Carli Lloyd’s succession of goals – that third coming at midfield – just about blew my mind.

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Lloyd goal #2

But beyond the exceptional play, when all was said and done and I saw a team of American women celebrating together before a crowd of 50,000+ cheering fans and in front of however many millions watching at home, in bars, etc., I thought one thing: Thank you, Title IX.

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Winners

Title IX, as part of the US Education Amendments of 1972, stated, “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.” There’s no direct reference to sports, but this is how Title IX is best and most widely known. When it comes to boys’ and girls’, men’s and women’s athletics, Title IX demands equal treatment, access, and funding. Has Title IX always been followed? No. And there have been many cases charging school districts and colleges and universities with noncompliance. And surely, there are more to come. But the beauty of this legislation (and all legislation of this kind) is that it gives people ground to stand on, it secures citizens’ access to rights and privileges, it lays groundwork for how institutions and administrators must operate.

From a world where girls in grammar school square danced as part of their physical education requirement while boys played basketball, where families moved to distant towns so daughters might attend a high school with a girls’ basketball team, where men received athletic scholarships to attend university but such funding for women was in limited supply, we now live in a world where the women of the United States Women’s National Team are national heroes. Without Title IX, without legislation mandating girls’ and women’s access to equal opportunities, the women of the USWNT, my age and younger (and older!) wouldn’t have had access to leagues and programs that fostered their athleticism, that built their confidence, that put them on the national stage in such grand form. There are numbers to consider here: in 1971, about 310,000 girls and women in America played high school and college sports; in 2012, there were more than 3,373,000 participants. Beyond the numbers and even beyond the actual opportunities guaranteed by Title IX, the possibilities generated by this legislation are remarkable. Sticking with the Women’s World Cup, seeing women compete at such a high level, with such tremendous physicality and athleticism, can bring viewers, young and old, to a variety of conclusions, chief among them: a) if women can succeed so masterfully in the world of sport, so long assumed to be the preserve of men, in what other “male” preserves might women excel?; b) maybe the idea of separate male spheres and female spheres is bullshit; c) the suggested limits associated with being part of the “weaker sex” are likewise bullshit. The world is brand new.

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Olden times views, ladies’ phys. ed., c. 1920s.

In addition to recognizing the impact of Title IX specifically, as I thought about outpouring of national pride for the USWNT, I thought about how great it would be if those loving this moment would pause and think about how it came to be. As a result of grassroots activism, part of 1960s and 1970s-era movements for social justice, the American Congress passed legislation extending rights across the American population. Thank you, active citizens. Thank you, active government. I believe mightily in the power of government to do good for its people. I believe mightily in the responsibility of government to secure and extend rights across the citizenry. I believe mightily this is good not only for the group to whom rights have been extended and protected but for the nation as a whole. Last night: case in point.

I also would like to point out that Title IX wasn’t just the product of my lefty forbearers’ antics. Yes, the Dems had majorities in both houses in 1972, but REPUBLICAN Dick Nixon was in the White House. The US Education Amendments of 1972 passed 88-6 in the Senate and 275-125 in the House, demonstrating that even members of the GOP got behind this thing. Bipartisan cooperation and a faith in the power of government produced powerful outcomes. I am all for dismantling the notion of the “good old days” mentality, but damn, that sounds nice.

To conclude: as I celebrated the US win last night, I immediately and simultaneously thought (#neveroffduty) how nice it would be if those so satisfied with the Women’s World Cup results thought about the history that led to that win, considered the kind of action that created the opportunities for women in sport (and elsewhere), and, as a consequence, committed themselves to the kind of politics that yielded such results.