40 Years After Title IX Black Females Still Lag In Sports Participation Rates

Almost 40 years ago, on June 23, 1972, Title IX, as it is known was signed in to law in the United States. Designed to level the playing ground between males and females as it concerns participation in athletics, Title IX states, in part that “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.” While women are now participating in sports at all levels–from secondary school to the professional level–at record numbers, another fissure has opened up on the courts, the class fissure: Black girls and woman still lag behind their white female counterparts.

An article in the New York Times tallied black female accomplishments and progress–as well as slow starts: among highs school sophomores, white girls had a 51 percent participation rate in sports, compared with 40 percent for black girls; at the intercollegiate level, black women are underrepresented in all but two sports–basketball, and track and field; white women held 166 of the 300 head coaching jobs in N.C.A.A. Division I women’s basketball while black women held only 35 of them.

There have been two theories presented as to why black women are still trailing their white female peers: (1) The lag is the result of an oversight, not intentional malice or exclusion, and (2) white women are keeping the best of the spoils–the money, the college athletic scholarships, the coaching positions–of Title IX for themselves and their daughters; according to Tina Sloan Green, co-founder and president of the Black Women in Sport Foundation, based in Philadelphia, matter-of-factly stated:”These white women don’t want us to compete with them.”

Reasons 1 and 2 each have a ring of truth to them. When one considers that some sports require a considerably time and financial investment from parents, it should not be surprising that black girls, who are more likely to be poor and/or come from single-parent homes in comparison to white girls, are not well-represented in sports known to recruit their players from the ranks of the affluent, such as lacrosse and polo. One the other hand, people want to concentrate and consolidate their power and influence, whether intentionally or unintentionally: If a white female coach knows is leaving her position as head coach of a Division I athletic team, it may be more likely that she will put in a good work with the hiring committee for a friend that she has known well for years, rather than a relatively less known up-and-coming black female assistant coach, when both her friend and the upstart are vying for her position.

Title IX has clearly precipitated the opening of a major dam that barred women from participating in sports on the basis on their sex. The next dams to be blown are ‘class’ and ‘race’–and it appears that more dynamite in the form of creative solutions will be needed to address the issues that are keeping black women from sports participation at rates equal to their white female peers.

Why do you think black female sports participation rates are still lagging? What do you think can be done to address these inequities?