May 02, 2012

Back when I was working at my first job as a sports reporter in New York, an impromptu game night at a friend's apartment brought together a small group of former athletes and young sports business professionals. A game of Taboo split us into men vs. women. The score was close and the women had one final chance to win.

Katherine Wu, a former Division III point guard and WNBA staffer, was waiting for the clock to start so she could deliver our clues. One of the men decided to to try to fluster her. He pointed out that the pressure was on, that this was going to be tough to pull off, and he questioned her nerves.

Unmoved, Katherine rolled her eyes and let out a little laugh.

"Oh please," she said dismissively. "I was an athlete."

Needless to say, she performed brilliantly and the ladies won. I never forgot her words; they resonate with me today just as much as they did then. That is the modern female athlete in a nutshell: confident, strong, smart, levelheaded. Whether we're playing a game of Taboo, running our own businesses or simply running our lives, we are no strangers to pressure and we rarely let it rattle us.

Girls who play sports get better grades, are more likely to graduate and are healthier over our lifetimes than women who don't play. We are less likely to have unintended pregnancies, have lower levels of depression and are more prepared for highly competitive workplaces. It's no coincidence that 80 percent of the female executives at Fortune 500 companies identify themselves as former "tomboys" who have played sports.

When it comes down to it, the majority of the characteristics I like about myself -- my competitive spirit, perseverance, decision-making and communication skills, ability to handle pressure, to solve problems, to overcome adversity and to work with others -- were developed through a lifetime of athletic competition. I am who I am because Title IX gave me the opportunity to play.

I was among the first young women to enjoy the fruits of Title IX. By the time I signed up for my first youth soccer team in the early 80s, the women who came before me had already made it acceptable to be a female athlete. They freed us from the stigma that they endured.

Soon, even the athletic female form was appreciated. We could show off our muscles, instead of hiding them. And finally, there were a significant number of scholarships available for women so that we could continue to pursue athletics after high school. To us, this was incredible progress that was long overdue.

But from the moment that Title IX was enacted in 1972, some have been trying to repeal or modify it. Even 40 years later, there are those who consider it unfair and unnecessary. They are wrong. Women athletes tend to be tough to rattle. But if you really want to see a Title IX baby lose her cool, bring up the subject of repeal. You'll find that it's difficult to get a word in edgewise once the true fury is unleashed. It becomes less of a discussion and more of an all-out war.

The reason is simple. When you talk about repealing Title IX, you're talking about removing the core of not just my being, but that of so many other female athletes who have Title IX to thank for much of their athletic career. Also, you're talking about removing an opportunity for all of the young women coming up who deserve a chance to realize their athletic potential as well.

The pioneering women fought hard to make it possible for me to have a sports career that they could only dream of. And it continues to improve; current female collegiate athletes enjoy things that never even entered my mind. If opponents of Title IX think any of us are willing to let the next generation of female athletes lose ground, they have greatly underestimated us.

Ultimately, this fight is not about X's and O's, win-loss records or who gets to hoist a trophy over her head. It's not about scholarship allocation, attendance numbers or revenue vs. nonrevenue. It's about the intangibles that end up forever changing the lives of young women. It's about who we are.

Take us on if you dare, but be forewarned. We are highly motivated, we love a good challenge and we hate to lose.

We are athletes.

Title IX taught us that.

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