37 Words That Changed Women’s Lives Forever

On June 23, 1972, President Richard M. Nixon signed into law a measure that forbids discrimination in educational activities, eventually including sports, on the basis of gender. Over the next 40 years, Title IX went on to fundamentally alter the playing fields of America—and to open up a world of opportunities, even for women who have never picked up a lacrosse stick. Here, the numbers, studies and firsthand accounts that reveal how Title IX sparked a revolution that touched all of us 

37 words changed women's lives image
Photograph: Illustrated by Brian Rea

I was born two weeks after Title IX passed. I joke that I’m a Title IX baby, because it always seemed as though the legislation was written especially for me and girls like me. Organized sports weren’t offered at my elementary school, so the first time I picked up a basketball, I was 12 years old and in seventh grade. I also did volleyball and softball and ran track. I could hardly believe I got to go to school and play.
I did not grow up with a notion of what women were supposed to do as opposed to what men were supposed to do. My mom was a single parent who held jobs that weren’t considered particularly feminine—like driving an 18-wheeler truck and working as a mail carrier—but she always wore lipstick and had her nails polished. That’s why I grew up feeling I could do it all.

Becoming a co-owner of the L.A. Sparks seemed like a natural move for me. From day one as a pro basketball player, I was in on more than my share of business meetings, sitting elbow to elbow with management and bringing in corporate sponsors. Now I can do that right in my community. I’m looking forward to getting our sponsors and our old ticket holders more involved with the team again, because we lost a lot of them when I retired from playing. I’m the mother of two children, so this feels like a great fit for my career right now. I’m up to the challenge.
—As told to J.J.

The Communicator: Janet Champ
In 1996, Janet Champ cocreated the famous TV commercial “If You Let Me Play,” part of Nike’s campaign to market to women. Still widely available on the Internet (for example, on YouTube), this touching advertisement shows young girls listing the positive effects of participating in sports. Champ is now an Oregon-based freelance writer.

Nike came to our ad agency, Wieden + Kennedy, in Oregon, and asked for a spot that spoke to the phenomenon behind Title IX and what it meant to a generation of young people. They gave us reams of information—boxes and boxes of statistics—and my art director and I waded through all of it. We came up with a lot of scripts and boards, and every week, sometimes twice a week, we showed new ideas. After one of our meetings, the Nike ad manager took me aside and said, “I don’t know, this feels like it’s not coming from your heart. It doesn’t feel like you’re really passionate about it.”

We felt stymied until, all of a sudden, the “if you let me play” idea just popped up. It came out of my experience as a stepmother and an aunt. I knew that lots of young girls—like my nieces and stepdaughters—didn’t have softball, volleyball or soccer programs in their schools because the money just wasn’t there. Even though Title IX had passed and was a wonderful amendment, it wasn’t always being implemented. Spending so much time around 10-year-old girls, I saw that many parents, especially mothers, didn’t understand that their daughters really did want to play.

So we did the boards and took them in for an emergency meeting the very next day. I knew it was right because I got choked up while I was presenting our proposal, and then half the room started to cry. Everyone clapped and said, “This is it!”

First published in the June 2012 issue

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