In 1998, Traci Green and her Florida teammates posed with an NCAA Women’s Tennis Championship trophy after beating Duke in five of six games. Green, who received a full scholarship to Florida, smiled proudly, graciously.
“I knew I was a recipient of Title IX, because of the history,” Green, 43, said in an interview, acknowledging the opportunities federal law has created for women and girls in sports since then. its enactment in 1972.
But Green also knew that she — a black woman on a team full of white women — represented a small number of athletes.
“It hasn’t changed that much,” said Green, now a women’s tennis coach at Harvard. She added: “On tennis teams you won’t find more than one black player.”
Despite all the progress that has been made through Title IX, many who study gender equity in sports say it hasn’t benefited women of all races. White women, they point out, are the primary benefactors of the law, because the law’s framework of gender equity—not to mention the intersection of gender with race and income—ignores important issues facing faced by many black female athletes, coaches and administrators.
“It’s kind of good news, bad news when you think about Title IX,” said Ketra Armstrong, professor of sports management and Michigan’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion. She added, “We talk about gender equity, but if you look at the numbers, we see that it’s white women who are breaking down barriers, who are getting into those leadership roles to a much greater extent than women. black, and that’s because we’re more comfortable talking about gender.
Some sports experts believe Title IX cannot resolve racial disparities in athletics.
“Title IX is strictly a gender filter. It’s hard to ask Title IX to resolve a gap in terms of race, household income, or any other category,” said Tom Farrey, director of the Aspen Institute, which conducts research on youth and sports. schools in the United States. He added: “The question is whether we need additional policies to fill these gaps, and I would say yes.”
Others, like Armstrong, argue that issues of race and gender are intertwined and that Title IX gender conversations are incomplete without including race because “it is often the essence of their race that defines them. “. She said she felt like people saw her first, not her gender, when she walked around a room.
“It has improved opportunities for black girls and women, and that shouldn’t be diminished,” she said. “But let’s not be fooled into thinking we’ve arrived, because we haven’t. There are still unfulfilled promises of Title IX.
According to the NCAA’s demographic database, white women made up the largest percentage of female athletes in all three divisions at 68% for the 2020-21 college year. Black women were at 11%, and most were concentrated in two sports: basketball, where they made up 30% of female athletes, and indoor and outdoor athletics (20%). Black women were barely represented in most other sports – 5% or less in softball, tennis, soccer, golf and swimming.
“It’s harder to break into these sports because of these stereotypical notions about black girl sports,” said Amira Rose Davis, an assistant professor at Penn State who focuses on black women in sports.
The divide in college athletics matches similar trends in youth sports.
A March study by the National Women’s Law Center found a big difference in athletic opportunities between high schools that were strongly white, with at least 90% white student bodies, or strongly nonwhite, with at least 90% nonwhite. The study found that heavily white schools had twice as many athletic opportunities as heavily non-white schools. And for girls in heavily non-white schools, there were significantly fewer spots on teams than for girls in heavily white schools, the study found.
The study said some of the shortcomings were “a strong indicator of lack of compliance with Title IX” and that sports like volleyball and soccer, with less participation by non-white athletes, were more likely to lead to college playing opportunities.
In college sports, athletics and basketball have been more accessible and conventional for black girls.
Carolyn Peck, who coached varsity and professional women’s basketball from 1993 to 2018, recalls watching C. Vivian Stringer coach women’s basketball in the late 1980s. Stringer, a black woman, showed Peck what was possible.
“All eyes in the black community were on her because she was pretty much the only one coaching on this national stage,” she said.
Peck, who comes from a predominantly white community in Jefferson City, Tennessee, had access to an array of sports when she was younger, including basketball and swimming. She chose basketball partly because she was talented and one of the taller kids in her school, but also because it was the only sport she was connected to.
Peck played at Vanderbilt on a full scholarship and got her first coaching job as an assistant to Pat Summitt, the influential Tennessee women’s basketball coach who won eight NCAA championships. As head coach of Purdue in 1998, Peck became the first African-American woman to win a national title.
“If it hadn’t been for Title IX, I might not have had the opportunity not only to play a sport,” Peck said, “but also to go to college thanks to a free education, to be able to enter the profession of framing.”
Access and cost remain huge barriers to entry for girls of color. A boom in girls’ high school participation rates — 3.4 million in 2019 from 1.85 million in 1978-79 — significantly helped girls who lived in school districts that had the resources to provide more sports teams and of opportunities. But girls of color, even those from middle class or more affluent families, often grow up in school districts with fewer opportunities.
Maisha Kelly, 44, Drexel’s athletic director and one of the few black women to hold the top athletic position at a university, said the only sports offered at her elementary and middle schools in Philadelphia were basketball. ball and athletics.
“Access to sports and the types of sports offered were not offered in more racially diverse areas,” Kelly said. She added: “If I wanted to do other sports, it would require financial means, physical access in the way of being brought into an organization where I could participate.”
Kelly said she was fortunate to be introduced to swimming by the Philadelphia Department of Parks, but the lack of access to certain sports for many young girls has contributed to “a disproportionate way that running manifests itself in certain sports”.
“It’s not diverse because of the socioeconomics, or it’s not diverse because of where the programming is,” Kelly added.
Kelly added that she didn’t think much about Title IX before she started working in the sport (she was once a Title IX coordinator at Bucknell).
It’s usual. In a nationwide survey of 1,000 people of color conducted by business intelligence firm Morning Consult on behalf of The New York Times, more than half of respondents said they had no knowledge of the law at all. Of the 133 women of color who responded that they played sports in college, high school or university, 41 said they felt they had benefited from Title IX.
Armstrong, who played basketball at Itawamba Community College in Mississippi and later at the University of Southwestern Louisiana, said she thinks there are more opportunities for black women today. oday, in a time of increased empowerment and representation. Black women have towering figures to look up to in many sports, including Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka in tennis as well as Simone Biles, the world’s most decorated gymnast.
“When I was growing up, you didn’t see that,” she said. “And we often say you can’t be what you can’t see.”
Most of the work still needs to be done at the coaching and administrative level, Armstrong said. In 2021, fewer than 400 black women coached women’s varsity sports teams, compared to about 3,700 white women and more than 5,000 white men (and very few women coached men’s teams).
The disparities were even starker at the administrative level, and the patterns persist even within the sports with the most black athletes.
“The fight to be head coach of a women’s basketball team for black women has been tough,” said Davis, who added that the lack of black women at administrative levels has a lot to do with racist stereotypes. that they are not strategic thinkers. “They are often the most qualified having played and been assistant coaches for a long time, and they are often the first to be fired.”