The 40th Anniversary of Title IX: Why Women Should Celebrate

The landmark legislation that increased access for women to high school and college sports turns 40 Saturday and we wonder where we'd be without it.

It’s a given that my girls will play at least one sport and it’s not just because I want them to have the experience of being on a team. It’s because it’s so common today for girls, as young as four or five years old, to play soccer, do gymnastics, even play baseball or basketball with girls – and boys. That wasn’t the case four decades ago. Consider this statistic.  About 31,000 women played college sports before the landmark federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in educational institutions known as Title IX was signed into law June 23, 1974. Today there are 817,073 girls participating in high school sports in the U.S., according to espnW.

We know you don’t need to play a sport to go on to do great things in this world, but there is no doubt that playing sports gives women skills and opens up opportunities they might not have had if teams were off limits to them like they were to our mothers and grandmothers.

Today in Washington, the White House will be marking the 40th anniversary of Title IX, with a special celebration, livestreamed on WhiteHouse.gov from 2:00pm ET to 4:00pm ET, and featuring Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to the president and chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, along with female sports trailblazers such as Billie Jean King. To join the conversation or ask a question, use the White House Twitter handle (@WhiteHouse) and hashtag #WhiteHouseTitleIX.

In addition, at an event in Washington Thursday night, the Women’s Sports Foundation in collaboration with espnW and Women in Cable Telecommunications will honor 40 women who played high school or college sports since Title IX and who have made quite an impact on society.

On the so-called “40 for 40” honorees list, you might expect names such as such as Mia Hamm, who played on two World Cup Championship soccer teams and seven-time Grand Slam tennis champ Venus Williams. But did you know Senator Kirsten Gillibrand from New York played squash in college and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice competed as a figure skater?  There are business execs on the list too such as Meg Whitman, CEO of Hewlett Packard, who played lacrosse and squash in college and entertainment stars such as one of our favorites -- actress, comedienne and writer Tina Fey, who played tennis in high school. Who knew!

“We are proud to recognize these women and the positive role that the passage of Title IX has played in the lives of countless women and girls,” said Kathryn Olson, chief executive officer of the Women’s Sports Foundation, founded by Billie Jean King. “Each has used participation in sports as a step toward making a very significant contribution to society in a wide variety of fields.”

We say brava to these women who have benefitted from Title IX, and to the government leaders at the time, including then President Nixon, who signed this bill into law, evening the playing field for women in athletics – and academics -- so that our girls have just as much chance to soar as the boys!

Who are ten of the most influential women in politics? Find out here:

Kelly Wallace, who played softball, did gymnastics and figure skated as a kid, is Chief Correspondent at iVillage. Follow Kelly on Twitter (@kellywallacetv).

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