June 23 marks the 50th anniversary of Title IX, a groundbreaking federal law that prohibited sex discrimination in education, stating 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 educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

While Title IX does not apply only to athletics, it is best known for creating more opportunities for women and girls to play sports. It requires schools and colleges receiving federal funds to give women and girls an equal chance to play sports and to treat men and women equally when it comes to athletic scholarships and other benefits like equipment, coaching and facilities.

While there is still progress to be made in terms of salary, media coverage, and opportunity, let’s take a look at the strides made by female athletes over the past 50 years:

  • Since Title IX, women’s participation in college athletics has increased. Today, women make up 44 percent of all NCAA athletes (compared to 15 percent pre-Title IX, when fewer than 30,000 women played college sports).
  • By 2012, the 40th anniversary of Title IX’s passage, the number of girls participating in high school sports nationwide had risen tenfold, to more than 3 million. More than 190,000 women were competing in intercollegiate sports—six times as many as in 1972.
  • By 2016, one in every five girls in the United States played sports, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation. Before passage of Title IX, that number had been one in 27.
  • In the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro American women dominated sports from gymnastics to basketball to swimming. That year saw the largest contingent of U.S. female Olympians in history, with a total of 292 women and 263 men. Back in 1972, only 90 women had joined the U.S. Olympic team of 428 athletes.
  • According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, girls’ high school participation also reached an all-time high in 2017-18 for the 29th consecutive year with 3,415,306 opportunities for girls to compete.
  • In 1972, the United States Olympic team of 428 athletes consisted of 90 women. In 2016, 292 women competed for the United States out of a team of 555. This year, 109 women competed in the Beijing Winter Games out of a total of 224 athletes.
  • 41 percent of women’s NCAA teams had a woman head coach in the 2020-21 academic year.
  • In the 2021 NFL season, women made up 38.8 percent of the NFL league office, 25.3 percent of teams’ senior administration, 3.1 percent of team CEOs and presidents, and 1.5 percent of team assistant coaches.
  • In 2020, 10.9 percent of NBA team presidents or CEOs were female, a significant increase from zero female CEOs in the 2010 season.

The impact of Title IX over the years has been far-reaching, with more women and girls participating in sports, succeeding in athletics, and playing a leadership role in professional sports organizations.

Authored by Zach Meeker, Research Assistant for Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush University Medical Center


Women’s Sports Foundation

NCAA Sports Sponsorship and Participation Report, 1971-72 and 2020- 21;

NCAA Sports Sponsorship and Participation Report, 1971-72 and 2020-21

The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) yearly report card.

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