Monday, July 2, 2012

Title IX: Here's to Another 40

Article by Leanne Elston

When I was around thirteen years old, I went with a friend from my soccer team to see Bend It Like Beckham. At this point in my life, although I’d been playing soccer for years and loved it, I didn’t really watch professional soccer at all. But I went to see this movie because it was about women playing soccer, and I was a girl and I played soccer.

If you haven’t seen Bend It Like Beckham, I first recommend that you go snag a copy of it from somewhere and watch it immediately. It is not strictly about soccer -- it is also a coming-of-age story, a family dramedy, a romance, a tale of friendship -- but much of the plot revolves around two eighteen-year-old women who dream of playing professional soccer. They live in England, and -- spoiler alert -- at the end of the film, they jet off to America to play soccer at a university. For them, the U.S. is the promised land of women’s soccer.

I guess the plot of that movie would have been sadly different were it not for Title IX. Without Title IX, Jess (Parminder Nagra) and Jules (Keira Knightley before she was Keira Knightley) might not have been able to play collegiate soccer. And hey, forget about a professional league. Forget about those Mia Hamm posters on Jules’ wall. Forget about Jess discovering she could play soccer at a level beyond pickup at the park. Forget about my friend and I going to see a movie about female soccer players, and forget about us loving it, and forget about us wanting to be just like them.

Neither of us was destined to be a future USWNT member, as it turned out, but when I got to thinking about Title IX’s effect on me, I thought of that film. I thought of feeling inspired as a thirteen-year-old.

Let’s fast-forward to today. Title IX has recently celebrated its 40th Anniversary. For only forty years have we had a piece of legislation that gives women and men equal opportunity in sports programs. I don’t play soccer anymore; these days I’m just a fan (my soccer cleats may or may not have most recently been used for a Quidditch player costume). But today, this is what Title IX has given me:

I’m not thirteen anymore, but women like the ones above still inspire me. They illustrate qualities that are admirable whether you are an athlete or not. Fight, determination, intelligence, humor, heart, grace, humility -- they’re important on and off the pitch. I can also still look up to women like Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy, who continue to grow American soccer and whose legacies have helped to build the USWNT that I love. And without Title IX, where would we be? Would I be watching Studio 90 videos of Megan Rapinoe and Lori Lindsey? Would I be hearing Julie Foudy’s voice on ESPN? Would I be so looking forward to women’s Olympic soccer later this month?

Keeping girls in the game also helps build a fanbase for the sport. For girls like me, who don’t grow up in families of soccer fans, playing the game is what introduces us. I think that I became a soccer fan because I enjoyed playing the sport; I probably wouldn’t have been as attracted to it otherwise. It only makes sense that girls who play soccer are particularly likely to support it and grow the female fanbase. Women United FC, a group of women who love MLS, is full of members who either played or continue to play the game.

In its forty years, Title IX has made the U.S. the height of women’s soccer. It has given both young girls and women role models to admire. It has expanded the reach of the sport to include and encourage girls to stay in the game. It has, in its way, made possible a movie like Bend It Like Beckham, and it will, I hope, make possible many more similar movies to come. When you think about it, in the course of history, forty years isn’t that long at all, and we’ve come a long way already.

Imagine what we can accomplish in another forty years.

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