Leveling the Playing Field?

Jul 31

2012 USA Olympic Team, Opening Ceremony


As millions of us tuned into the Olympic’s Opening Ceremony we saw for the first time, the United States sending more women than men. During the games, 269 women will wear the red, white, and blue; while only 261 men are part of the U.S. delegation. Athletes like Shawn Johnson, Kerri Walsh Jennings, and Gabby Douglas are just as much of household names as Ryan Lochte, Justin Gatlin, and Anthony Davis. Is this a result of Title IX?

Forty years ago, young girls were only able to dream of playing collegiate and professional sports with the same opportunities as their male counterparts. In 1972, President Nixon signed into law what we know today as Title IX, making it illegal to discriminate against participation, education, or financial assistance based on sex. Its impact extends off the sports fields as well, into the classroom and education programs.

The effects of this are evident wherever you look – from the iconic image of Brandi Chastain ripping off her shirt after scoring the winning goal in the 1999 World Cup, to ESPN broadcasting the NCAA women’s basketball selection show in primetime, women’s sports have come a long way from Billie Jean King battling Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes.

Brandi Chastain ripping off her shirt after scoring the winning goal in the 1999 World Cup


A 2006 study revealed the number of women in college sports has increased more than 450% since Title IX was passed. But have we gone too far? Have women’s successes lead to us ignoring men?

Around the country, men’s collegiate sports programs are being cut an alarming rate. Princeton and Syracuse cut the wrestling programs, Boston University does not have official football team, and Colgate‘s baseball team has been defunded as well. Nearby, the University of Maryland recently cut its men’s track teams (indoor and outdoor track, cross-country) while my alma matter James Madison University dropped a host of sports in 2007 including men’s  archery, indoor and outdoor track, cross-country, gymnastics, swimming, and wrestling. UCLA cut its men’s swimming and diving program, which produced 16 Olympic Gold Medalists, and dropped its men’s gymnastics team after it comprised half of the gold medal winning 1984 Olympic squad, the last U.S. men’s team to win gold. The list goes on.

Wrestling has seen the brunt of the cuts as 355 college teams (22,000 roster positions) have been eliminated in the past decade. Cross country, indoor track, golf, tennis, rowing, outdoor track and swimming have been the other’s most affected – all Olympic sports. This potentially doesn’t bode well for our future on the world’s biggest athletic stage.

Men playing Olympic sports, across the country are losing the opportunity to go to college on an athletic scholarship because of “having to level the playing field.” According to Title IX, the number of athletic scholarships has to be equal for men and women so what’s happening to all the high school wrestlers and track runners who cannot afford college without assistance? If these athletes cannot play college sports, what happens to their future Olympic dreams?

Are we doing exactly what we promised not to do with Title IX? While attempting to encourage women and provide them with ample opportunities, have we deemphasized our support for everyone else? Were we short-sighted in our thinking? What implications will this have for future Olympics, future American athletics, and our overall global positioning?

This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 31st, 2012 at 5:31 pm and is filed under Behavior Change, Social Marketing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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