The cover of the May 28, 1973, issue of Sports Illustrated is still striking, with its close-up photo of an anonymous young female sprinter and jarringly direct headline: WOMEN ARE GETTING A RAW DEAL.
That cover story was the first installment in a surprisingly forward-looking three-part series by SI on the state of women’s sports. The key takeaways: In ’73 gender inequity in funding and opportunity was rampant, as was chauvinism toward female athletes at all levels.
Some of the ground covered in the series is shocking; some is all too familiar. One thing today’s reader can’t help but notice is the absence of any mention of Title IX, the gender-equity education law that was signed a year earlier. No one then foresaw the impact it would have. Sometimes the seeds of revolution bloom slowly.
Now it’s a given that Title IX has definitively shaped the modern sports landscape—we’ve had its 50th anniversary, and this issue, circled on our calendars for a while. We wanted this package of stories, overseen by Assistant Managing Editor Jamie Lisanti, to explore the history and future of Title IX. And we wanted the cover to capture the spirit of a law that in one way or another has impacted every woman in this country.
So this spring we asked readers at SI.com and on social media to submit photos embodying what Title IX means to them. SI director of photography Marguerite Schropp Lucarelli curated dozens of submissions featuring women of all ages, eras and levels, from Major League Baseball to rec-league soccer. You can see some of them on this unique crowdsourced cover—alongside such sports icons as Billie Jean King, Allyson Felix and Pat Summitt—and below, where women of all ages shared their personal Title IX stories. The Title IX effect runs deep, from sports’ grass roots to their halls of fame.
“Because of Title IX my life has been blessed with many opportunities: sportsmanship, leadership, team bonding, but most of all everlasting friendships with incredible women. Women who worked together and supported each other in college for athletic excellence, now continue to support one another though life’s toughest times. Because of Title IX I am part of a family that is unlike any other.”
"Time has brought on a change, but the discipline and values that I learned as a cheerleader were taken on to my professional career as a nurse."
Katie Krall and Bianca Smith
“When the Red Sox hired Bianca Smith and I as coaches—the first organization in Major League Baseball to have two females on the field in uniform—we became part of a history of women breaking barriers in this game. We are the beneficiaries of Title IX having played sports throughout our lives which imparted valuable lessons of courage, teamwork and humility. We stand on the shoulders of the women who came before us and recognize the responsibility and privilege of pushing for change for those who will come after.” —Katie Krall
“I not only had a chance to play a Division 1 sport, I have the tremendous honor of getting to coach professional baseball thanks to the strides that have been made for women in sports.” —Bianca Smith
“Starting at the most basic level, Title IX offers protection for people from discrimination on the basis of gender. Even at the most basic level this legislation removes long-standing barriers and creates a fertile ground of opportunity for all females. However, the true value of Title IX is much deeper than the legal jargon that defines it. The aforementioned opportunity is multi-faceted and provides exponential benefits to student athletes. Please note that I said ‘student athletes’ and not ‘female student athletes’ for a reason. The opportunities fostered by Title IX serve to grow not only female sports but the entire sports ecosystem making it inherently advantageous to everyone.
Today, when we look at the landscape of sports at all levels there is a diverse group of fans that developed a passion and a rooting interest driven from their own athletic experiences. Furthermore, we are now seeing female athletes getting involved in all elements of sports from officiating to coaching and right to the elite levels of the front office. Make no mistake, none of that happens without Title IX.”
“As woman now in my 50s, Title IX had a significant impact on me. I had more opportunities to participate in sports. That alone made a huge difference in my life, as through sports, I learned many life lessons, including teamwork, hard work, time management and believing in myself. And I made great friends. It also gave me the skills and the confidence to coach both of my daughters' teams, and impart those same lessons to them and many other young girls, to inspire confident in themselves and help them reach their full potential.”
Alice Luthy Tym
“I was a tomboy who wanted to be a baseball player. When I was in high school, my father took me to Glen Oak Park in Peoria, Ill., to see Maureen Connolly give a tennis clinic. I took one look at her and knew that I wanted to be a tennis player just like Little Mo. But Peoria High School offered no sports for girls and I was not allowed to play on the boys’ team. The University of Florida did not offer women’s sports, but the sororities had a multi-sports event for a huge trophy. Sororities were where women had leadership opportunities. I played tennis for Delta Delta Delta, met other players and formed the women’s tennis team.
By 1966, I had graduated with my BA and my MA and began to play tennis full time around the world. I moved to the Bahamas in 1970 to begin a family and settle down. Giving tennis lessons paid well, but the Bahamas was undergoing political changes so I moved to Chattanooga, Tenn., and started the women’s tennis team as a coach at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. The team won three consecutive AIAW National titles. However, I was paid exactly 10% what the men’s tennis coach was paid. Then came Title IX and equity. It took a law to do the right thing.
Most of the athletes who came after Title IX became a law don’t realize there was ever a time when women were excluded. There is a sisterhood of those of us who came before Title IX. Many are resentful that they did not have opportunities. Some of us enjoyed fighting every step of the way. Title IX taught me that I cannot expect someone else to fulfill my dreams. It is up to me to do so. I also learned that fairness is not enough. It takes a law."
Jennifer Geoghegan (picture of daughter Caitlin)
“Title IX gave me the opportunity to play field hockey in college. It gave me the confidence to later go on to get my MBA in class largely filled with men. And still later I was able to become a C-Suite executive at a wealth management firm in an industry traditionally dominated by men. What is even more exciting to me is that my daughter is able to play field hockey in a top program and take advantage of year-round training and recruiting programs, just as boys have been able to do in their sports for many years. She is also able to compete in field hockey in high school, as New Jersey high schools have increased the number of competitive teams in our states. She believes that there is nothing standing in the way of achieving her goals and I think she's right!”
“Title IX ultimately built a foundation that not only empowered me, but also put me in a position where I can now empower the next generation of future leaders. The impact I get to have on the lives of these girls and women through representation at the professional level, and through coaching them at MLB camps and the WNT, is a privilege that I don’t take lightly. Without Title IX, I would not be living my truth.”
“As a student athlete at Boston College, all I cared about was playing on a team and being the best competitor and athlete I could be. However, looking back, it gives me great pleasure to think that I grew up playing women’s sports on the Division I level at Boston College and to know that I was part of a movement and the evolution of women’s sports that are finally getting recognized.”
“It means I matter. It means I have the same chance to win, to lose, to celebrate, to cry, to compete, to get bruises, to get cheered on, to get yelled at, and to play in college as the boys have. That is what Title IX means to me."
“Where do I begin? Because of playing sports, a shy girl got the opportunity to be a leader on her high school teams, which led to being a sports editor at The Massachusetts Daily Collegian. From there I was a sports writer for a local newspaper, and enjoyed over 15 years as a high school history teacher and coach. Two years ago I successfully defended a dissertation where I traveled to Ethiopia to ask girl runners whether they perceived greater voice empowerment because of their participation in sport. This research question directly reflects my life experiences. I have recently started my own female empowerment business and am publishing my first book in May 2022 entitled: Take Her Word For It: Sports Cultivates World-Class Leaders. I'm also publishing an anthology of the history of girls and sport at my high school this fall. So I would say that, yes, the opportunities afforded to me as a direct result of Title IX have made the life I live possible. This picture is of me with my fellow high school softball captains in 1996. It was our very last game on the day before we were to graduate from high school. I'm still friends with these girls today.”
“Title IX means female athletes have a place to compete, to win, to celebrate and share the joy of all of those things with teammates and friends. Just like my daughter, her team, and her schoolmates did as state basketball champions in 2020.”
“Sports have always been a part of my life that have allowed me to clear my mind, connect with my body, and create powerful bonds with others. I feel like they have helped me to build both physical and mental strength, and have certainly made me into the woman I am today.”