Title IX 50th anniversary: How one law changed women’s sports forever

For women of my generation, born a decade or more after Title IX was passed, the law had an almost mythical air. I often heard it referred to vaguely to explain why every girl I knew played some kind of sport. I doubt whether anyone my age could quote or explain Title IX, but there was a sense that at some point before us, something had changed that allowed all of us to play sports in ways our mothers mostly hadn’t.

This understanding manifested in many communities as a kind of frenzy when it came to certain girls sports. In my hometown in suburban Seattle, it was soccer. The sport was so popular when I was growing up that I never even made a school team, despite playing from age 6 to 18—the competition was that fierce. It wasn’t for lack of love, though, or competitiveness on my part. I still remember my very first game, bunch-ball though it probably was. I felt like I had been plugged in; energy buzzed through my limbs.

When I didn’t make the school soccer team, I joined cross-country instead, using the endurance I built on the field to race for miles. My friends did track and field, or played softball, basketball or volleyball. Where I grew up, whether you were super athletic, artsy, nerdy, popular, goth or punk, sports were just part of the fabric of our childhoods.

Sometimes, though, we heard whispers of another reality. Just a generation earlier, girls sports in much of the country hadn’t even existed? Women’s bodies were considered too weak to run long distances—so women like Bobbi Gibb and Kathrine Switzer had to sneak into marathons? Women could be rejected from a college because the school had already accepted its quota of two female applicants?