Women Athletes and the Pursuit of Freedom

Women’s life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness were highlighted when the Title IX anniversary and its celebrations were toned down by the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

ESPN’s “37 Words,” a four-part series on Title IX, gave me a burst of hope during an emotionally draining week. The documentary – now available on streaming services – tells the story of Title IX from its fascinating beginnings to the 50 years since.

I watched “37 Words” while feeling frustrated, angry, and helpless. The dismantling of Title IX will certainly be on the agenda of those who want a national ban on abortion, who want to revisit gay rights and who want to abolish contraception. The conservative wrecking ball that exists in the form of the extremist Supreme Court and out-of-control state legislatures will not stop after the elimination of women’s right to privacy and health care.

“It’s strangely cruel that this is happening during this time of Title IX, celebrating this bill that gave so many women the ability to make our own choices about what we wanted to do with our lives,” said the USWNT soccer star Megan Rapinoe, just hours after the Supreme Court overturned Roe.

Rapinoe and gymnast Simone Biles will be among 17 people to receive the nation’s highest civilian honour, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, at a ceremony next week, the White House announced Friday. Congratulations on this great news.

The first part of “37 Words,” captioned “Too Pushy for a Woman,” features the stories of the women and men who worked to get Title IX passed in the first place. We are learning Rep. American Edith Green from Oregon famously and on the sly wrote the provision of Title IX in the Higher Education Act of 1972. We learned that U.S. Senator Birch Bayh of Illinois, the “Father of Title IX,” gave much of the credit for shaping his efforts on women’s rights legislation to his wife Marvella.

I was empowered by the Grant High School softball coach and team featured in Part 4 of “37 Words,” subtitled “Generation Next.” The team simply wanted a pitch to match the boys’ pitch, but when plans for a softball facility were scrapped after a $138 million renovation that was completed in 2019, coach Debbie Engelstad and three others players became plaintiffs in a lawsuit in June 2021 alleging Title IX discrimination. .

ESPN and Capital News Service — a student organization at the University of Maryland — reported that Engelstad has been a member of the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame and has coached girls’ softball for 35 years. ESPN aired scenes of her tending to fields about a mile from the school, cleaning up mud and cleaning up dog poo.

Looking back, she was shocked to have put up with her team playing in dismal facilities for so long.

She quoted Billie Jean KIng during the ESPN documentary: “Everyone thinks women should be thrilled when we get crumbs, and I want women to have the cake, the icing, and the icing on the cake too.”

“I probably should have done it much earlier in my career,” Engelstad told Capital News. “But I continued to believe that the district I worked for as a teacher, that they would do the right thing.”

It took a federal lawsuit to get them to do the right thing. Portland Public Schools and the plaintiffs settled down and agreed on a plan for a softball field at the school.

“The fact remains that equality is not being respected, and the future of Title IX must recognize that,” Elizabeth Sharrow, professor of history and public policy at UMass Amherst, said in “37 Words.”

Sharrow, an expert in Title IX studies, was responsible for developing the evidence-based policy recommendations for a Women’s Sports Foundation report titled “50 Years of Title IX: We’re Not Done Yetto help shape future planning, research and action.

The report ends with some basic advice: Many choices about what gender equity looks like are made by the administrators of your local elementary, middle, or high school, or your municipal youth sports leagues. Write them an email, letter, or make a phone call to your local school administrators. Plead for:

  • Ensure fair treatment of all students in interscholastic athletics. A call to local administrators can go a long way to ensuring they understand that community members care about how decisions are made in sports programs.

  • Develop public materials on how the school addresses gender equity in sport, as well as the full inclusion of LGBTQ athletes, BIPOC athletes, and athletes with disabilities.


When will the spirit of Title IX be truly realized? My cynical self says never and fears things will keep going backwards before we move forward again.

But a timely letter made me feel less frustrated and helpless.

“Since I started reading your columns, I think very differently about girls and women’s sports. Thanks for opening my eyes,” wrote one reader.

Thank you, sir, for that kind comment and for bringing tears to my eyes yet again during a very emotionally difficult week.

Joyceb10bassett@gmail.com • @joyceb10bassett • timesunion.com/author/joyce-bassett

  • Churchill: Albany school district clears sports bra suspensions but blames ducks

  • NPR: World Swimming Body’s New Policy Effectively Bans Transgender Women

This column is sponsored by Times Union Women@Work, the Capital Region’s network of business and professional women. Join us today on: https://womenatworkny.com


About Frank Torres

Check Also

All smiles at DREAM Adaptive Watersports Week

A welcoming lawn lined with towering trees overlooking Echo Lake near Bigfork is filled with …