Leveling the Field: Women in Sports | Collection Development

It is a common misconception that Title IX only relates to women having an equal opportunity to participate in school athletics. In fact, the law is much broader than sports and encompasses equality for everyone, not just women. In the last few years, Title IX has been in the news in connection with campus sexual assaults. Previously, Title IX cases were mostly related to athletics and physical ­education.

The basic letter of the law states, “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.”

Applying the law to sports

The specifics of the law as they relate to sports stipulate three major areas of compliance: equal opportunities to participate; equal access to scholarships and funding; and equal treatment in the provision of equipment, coaching, facilities, scheduling of games and practices, publicity, support services, and recruitment. Title IX also applies to physical education, requiring equal treatment in assignment of instructors, testing, grading, equipment, locker rooms, and other resources.

In order to be in compliance with Title IX, schools must meet at least one of three measures (the so-called “three-prong test”): the ability to demonstrate that opportunities for participation are proportionate to enrollment; a history and continued practice of program expansion responsive to interest; or that current programs fully accommodate the interests and abilities of all students.

Challenges, Clarifications, Impact

Since its passage in 1972 as part of the Education Amendments Act, Title IX has weathered many challenges and helped bring about major changes in women’s sports (thus the thinking that Title IX only applies to women). An early and frequent (three times since 1974) assault has come from those who seek to remove “revenue sports” from the jurisdiction of Title IX. All have failed so far to gain any ground with the courts, but the expectation is that this issue will continue to be raised because these sports have historically been funded far beyond other programs. Grove City College v. Bell (1984) spoke to the inclusion of intercollegiate athletics in the juris­diction of Title IX, arguing that these programs were not direct recipients of federal funding. The Supreme Court agreed, and Title IX carried no weight in athletics until the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987 reversed that decision. Those brief years underscored the importance of the law. In its absence, many female athletes lost scholarships and numerous women’s teams were dropped.

Other key early rulings also served to clarify important points of Title IX. Haffer v. Temple University (1988) created a model for evaluating discrimination in funding and support for athletic programs, and Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools (1992) confirmed that monetary damages could be awarded in Title IX lawsuits. Over the last 20 years, there have been additional legal actions surrounding Title IX and athletics, many of which have served to clarify the application of the law.

Title IX has contributed to significant increases in the number of women who participate in high school and college sports, and consequent athletic scholarships have grown exponentially. The effects have extended into leadership as well, with coaches of women’s teams being paid competitively with men’s and successful female athletes and coaches heading athletic programs and National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) offices.

Starred titles (redstar) are essential purchases for most ­library collections.

Sara Holder is Head of Research and Information Services at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and coauthor of Difficult Decisions: Closing and Merging Academic Libraries (ALA Editions, 2015). She earned her MLIS from Dominican University and is a longtime sports and business reviewer for LJ

History & Law

redstarBelanger, Kelly. Invisible Seasons: Title IX and the Fight for Equity in College Sports. Syracuse Univ. 2016. 504p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780815634843. $75; pap.
ISBN 9780815634706. $44.95.

Belanger’s comprehensive work tells the story of the women athletes and their supporters who took on Michigan State University in the early years of Title IX.

Brake, Deborah L. Getting in the Game: Title IX and the Women’s Sports Revolution. New York Univ. 2010. 320p. ISBN 9780814799659. $89; pap. ISBN 9780814760390.
$26; ebk. ISBN 9780814787120.

In this concise account, Brake offers a definitive legal analysis of Title IX through the lens of feminist theory.

redstarCarpenter, Linda Jean & R. Vivian Acosta. Title IX. Human Kinetics. 2004. 280p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780736042390. $62.

Covering all aspects of Title IX, this detailed work includes the history of the law from its creation to its judicial interpretations and clarifications and how these have affected its impact.

Cohen, Marilyn. No Girls in the Clubhouse: The Exclusion of Women from Baseball. McFarland. 2009. 228p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780786440184. pap. $29.95.

In analyzing the history of women’s exclusion from baseball, Cohen mentions Title IX lawsuits that have resulted, along with stories of women who have broken the barrier and the isolation they experienced. (LJ 2/15/09)

redstarEqual Play: Title IX and Social Change. Temple Univ. 2007. 376p. ed. by Nancy Hogshead-Makar & Andrew Zimbalist. illus. index. ISBN 9781592133802. pap. $40.95.

Hogshead-Makar and Zimbalist present an excellent collection of essays written by sports journalists on issues and aspects of Title IX and how the law relates to school athletics.

LeBlanc, Diane & Allys Swanson. Playing for Equality: Oral Histories of Women Leaders in the Early Years of Title IX. McFarland. 2016. 208p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9781476663005. pap. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9781476626987.

The authors illustrate the impact of Title IX through the words of eight women involved in different aspects of competitive and recreational sports.

redstarMitchell, Nicole & Lisa A. Ennis. Encyclopedia of Title IX and Sports. Greenwood. 2007. 240p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780313335877. $66.

Mitchell and Ennis have crafted an essential collection of 150 entries on topics both directly related to and associated with Title IX.

Sporting Equality: Title IX Thirty Years Later. Taylor & Francis. 2004. 182p.
ed. by Rita James Simon. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780765808486. pap. $44.95.

This volume examines the findings and recommendations of the Secretary of Education’s Commission on Opportunities in Athletics (2002) as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the original legislation.

Sociology of Sports

Eckstein, Rick. How College Athletics Are Hurting Girls’ Sports: The Pay-To-Play Pipeline. Rowman & Littlefield. Mar. 2017. 244p. notes. index. ISBN 9781442266285. $34; ebk. ISBN 9781442266292.

Sociologist Eckstein looks at the increasing commercialization of college sports and its negative impact on the development of younger athletes, particularly girls.

Fields, Sarah K. Female Gladiators: Gender, Law, and Contact Sport in America.
Univ. of Illinois. 2008. 232p. notes. index. ISBN 9780252075841. pap. $28.

Fields, who specializes in sports as well as women’s and gender studies, looks at the continued resistance, both in the courts and in society, to women’s participation in contact sports.

Lieberman, Viridiana. Sports Heroines on Film: A Critical Study of Cinematic Women Athletes, Coaches, and Owners. McFarland. 2014. 200p. notes. bibliog. index.
ISBN 9780786476619. pap. $40.

In this analysis of the portrayal of female athletes in film from the 1940s to the present, Lieberman identifies links to the social values of the time and assesses the potential of athletes as role models.

McDonagh, Eileen & Laura Pappano. Playing with the Boys: Why Separate Is Not Equal in Sports. Oxford Univ. 2009. 384p. notes. index. ISBN 9780195386776. pap. $19.95;
ebk. ISBN 9780199840595.

The playing field in competitive sports needs to be leveled, the authors argue, which includes doing away with special rules that are currently in practice in the women’s versions of sports that are also played by men.

Milner, Adrienne N. & Jomills H. Braddock II. Sex Segregation in Sports: Why Separate Is Not Equal. Praeger. 2016. 208p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781440838101. $48;
ebk. ISBN 9781440838118.

Here, the authors maintain that Title IX’s “separate but equal” stance is ineffective and should be replaced by the integration of male and female athletes on the same team.

Pieper, Lindsay. Sex Testing: Gender Policing in Women’s Sports. Univ. of Illinois. 2016. 256p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780252040221. $95; pap. ISBN 9780252081682. $22.95; ebk. ISBN 9780252098444.

While examining the history of sex testing in sports, Pieper looks at the International Olympic Committee’s use of the practice to identify and eliminate female athletes who do not fit Western norms and how this hindered the development of women’s athletics.

redstarSuggs, Welch. A Place on the Team: The Triumph and Tragedy of Title IX. Princeton Univ. 2006. 296p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780691128856. pap. $30.95.

Suggs covers 30 years of debate on the pros and cons of Title IX and how it has affected both women’s and men’s sports, offering a solid starting point for ­discussion.

YA Resources

Blumenthal, Karen. Let Me Play: The Story of Title IX; The Law That Changed the Future of Girls in America. Atheneum. 2005. 160p. ISBN 9780689859571. $22.99.

Journalist Blumenthal narrates the story of the impetus, creation, and effect of Title IX for younger readers. (SLJ 7/05)

White, Ellen Emerson. A Season of Daring Greatly. Greenwillow. Feb. 2017. 432p.
ISBN 9780062463210. $17.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062463234.

White’s YA novel features 18-year-old Jill, the star pitcher for her high school, who is drafted by a major league team and how she struggles with being a role model. (SLJ 1/17)


Gracie. 97 min. Davis Guggenheim, dist. by New Line Home Video. 2007.
DVD UPC 0794043109911. $14.99.

Directed by Guggenheim, this family drama recounts the story of a young girl and her fight to play on the boys’ varsity soccer team.

Half the Road: The Passion, Pitfalls and Power of Women’s Professional Cycling.
106+ min. Kathryn Bertine, dist. by First Run Features. 2014. DVD UPC 720229916042. $24.95.

Professional cycling is a sport dominated by men but in which women compete and thrive despite inequalities. This documentary examines the subject using interviews, racing footage, and director ­Bertine’s own story of chasing her Olympic dream. (LJ 3/15/15)

redstarPatsy Mink: Ahead of the Majority. color & b/w. 56 min. Making Waves Films. 2008. DVD $44.50.

Patsy Mink was the first Asian American member of Congress and first woman elected to Congress from the state of ­Hawaii. This documentary centers on her political life and her involvement in the creation of Title IX.

Playing Unfair: The Media Image of the Female Athlete. 30 min. Media Education Fdn. 2002. DVD $250.

Investigative reporters explore the contrasts between the success of Title IX and the continued inequity in media coverage of men’s sports versus women’s.


Borders, Ila Jane & Jean Hastings Ardell. Making My Pitch: A Woman’s Baseball Odyssey. Univ. of Nebraska. Apr. 2017. 264p. illus. notes. ISBN 9780803285309.
$26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781496200204.

Borders describes her years as a Little League prodigy who went on to win a college baseball scholarship and play in both collegiate and professional men’s baseball leagues. (LJ 4/1/17)

redstarGilder, Ginny. Course Correction: A Story of Rowing and Resilience in the Wake
of Title IX.
Beacon. 2015. 272p. bibliog. ISBN 9780807074770. $26.95; pap.
ISBN 9780807090367. $20; ebk. ISBN 9780807074787.

Gilder validates the importance of Title IX by showing the profound impact that participation in sports can have on a young woman’s life.

Ross, Betsy. Playing Ball with the Boys: The Rise of Women in the World of Men’s Sports. Clerisy. 2011. 240p. ISBN 9781578604609. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781578604616.

This collection of essays includes personal stories of women who broke barriers to succeed in male-dominated ­positions in sports journalism, medicine, coaching, and administration.

Skaine, Rosemarie. Women College Basketball Coaches. McFarland. 2001. 207p.
notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780786409204. pap. $39.95.

The increasing presence of female coaches in college basketball and their in­fluence on the sport is detailed by Skaine, including a historical look at the involvement of women in college sports, both pre– and post–Title IX.

Wambach, Abby. Forward: A Memoir. Dey Street: HarperCollins. 2016. 240p. ISBN 9780062466983. $26.99; pap. ISBN 9780062467003. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062467010.

Retired soccer player Wambach tells the story of the many challenges she faced—from both outside forces and her own inner struggles—on the road to becoming a world-class athlete. (LJ 11/1/16)

Internet Resources

American Civil Liberties Union

This resource includes write-ups on the pioneers of the movement (for example, Rep. Patsy Mink, Rep. Edith Green, Sen. Birch Bayh, and Billie Jean King); blog posts about Title IX–related cases and news; and fact sheets on Title IX history and related topics such as school segregation and sexual assault on college ­campuses.

National Women’s Law Center (NWLC)

Created through NWLC’s ­MARGARET Fund (May All Resolve, Girls Achieve Real Equality Today) that supports Title IX educational and compliance efforts, this site explains the basics and history of the legislation, with case studies, and provides links to resources for further learning and ­advocacy.

The U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR)

The OCR is the official body tasked with enforcing Title IX and other ­statutes. The site provides a wealth of background documents relating to the legislation and its enforcement, a resource guide to assist with compliance, and an online mechanism for reporting allegations of ­discrimination.

Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF)

The WSF provides the story behind the legislation and its history as well as myths and facts about Title IX, a primer on the language used in the legislation, and ­position papers recounting the foundation’s opinion issues such as those regarding contact sports and dropping men’s sports from the name of Title IX.

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  1. Douglas Lord says:

    This is a huge amount of excellent work, Sara – thank you on behalf of librarianship for this!

    • Sara Holder says:

      Thanks Douglas! I’m a regular reader of your column so your kind words mean a lot. This was a really fun piece to put together – I’m glad it will be useful for others as much as it was a great experience for me.

  2. ThomasNep says:

    Sir Bobby Charlton made his Manchester Common inauguration 60 years ago today (Thursday), when he scored twice in a 4-2 victory once more Charlton Athletic at Pass‚ Trafford.
    Charlton joined Concerted in 1953 as an England Schoolboys wunderkind with a bulky noted and was yearning to filch his mark in Matt Busby’s free-flowing team. With Tommy Taylor away with England on oecumenical job object of a amusement against Northern Ireland, his big inadvertent arrived, five days limited of his 19th birthday.
    The venerable footballing Knight spoke to MUTV some on occasion ago about his bend in brobdingnagian list as he offered his recollections of the start of an incredible odyssey.
    “It was the longest conditions I’d for ever been below par the pitch injured,” recalled Sir Bobby. “There was a juvenile called Keith Marsden who played centre-back in support of Manchester New zealand urban area Reserves and we both club the ball at the unvaried unceasingly a once and my ankle swelled up. Three weeks later, Sir Matt Busby asked me how I was.

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