Let the celebrations continue today, and tomorrow, and all year. Today is the 50th anniversary of Title IX — the Education Amendments protecting Americans from gender discrimination were signed June 23, 1972 — and half-century birthdays always deserve a party. While we celebrate, though, let's also challenge. That's the message from these eight Minnesota women, and many others, as we look to the next 50 years of the pursuit of gender equality in sports.
In that pursuit, what needs to happen next? What must change in the 51st year of Title IX? What do these women want to see happen right now in sports in our state and beyond? We asked, and these eight Minnesota women answered. They share their thoughts here today, a day of celebrating and challenging, in their own words:
THE MINNESOTA ICON
A three-time Olympic medalist in women's hockey, former Gophers star Natalie Darwitz returned to her alma mater last year as an assistant coach. She's also been a head coach at the high school and college levels. Her greatest wish: to see more women hired to lead. As told to Rachel Blount, who covers Olympics and college sports for the Star Tribune.
Let's end the excuses era
I always want to come from a grateful stance. Title IX has opened doors for me and my teammates and other women to have opportunities. But I'm kind of at that point where I'm a little bit frustrated, actually. Now that I'm on the other side of things as a coach, hockey is still a male-dominated sport on the female side. You look at the WCHA, where there are eight teams, and you see that six of the head coaches are male.
There's no longer the excuse of, "Well, there's not enough females. They don't have experience." We do. We're just continuing to pass them up. When is somebody going to understand: We're ready. Just give us the opportunity.
I think it's time. We need to take the next step. Players are still seeing male role models in the head coaching positions, and they're still seeing females in the second assistant or first assistant roles. That's not good enough.
I feel like we're running out of excuses why women are not in these roles. The excuses we have been using for the last however many years, they're running out. They're no longer true. We need to take a real strong look under the hood and examine what is best for our sport to give women a better opportunity all around.
In Jessie Diggins' sport, cross-country skiing, women and men on the World Cup tour have the same amount of races and prize money. But women compete at shorter distances in nearly every event. During the upcoming season, all race distances will be uniform for the first time, which Diggins hopes will change perceptions about what women athletes can do. As told to Rachel Blount, who has covered 13 Olympic Games for the Star Tribune.
Test us, and watch us ace it
For me, the history of why women were doing shorter distances is incredibly insulting. When women were first able to do cross-country ski races, they literally had an ambulance at the finish line, because they thought women couldn't handle it. It's grounded in this history of belittling and not believing that women could do the exact same thing as men — which, by the way, we can. We train exactly as hard. We do all the things our male counterparts do, we just race at shorter distances.
This change is a big deal, because of the messaging behind it. The subliminal messaging of, "Well, women race shorter. Is that because they're not capable, or they're not as strong or as tough?" That bleeds into other areas of life. I think it's super important, even if it seems like a minor detail.
I'm excited to see how the year goes. I think it's going to be really, really fun to finally have equal distance between women and men. As I understand it, it's sort of an experimental year. I'm hopeful that it's a permanent change going forward.
As senior director of diversity, equity & inclusion with the Minnesota Vikings, Anne Doepner works to develop a more inclusive space in a field dominated by men. She's passionate about opening doors for other women to lead. As told to Star Tribune sports columnist Chip Scoggins.
Let women call the shots
We're moving beyond a lot of the "firsts." What we need to get to now is more women in leadership. More women in influential decision-making roles for organizations. More women at the table when the big decisions are being made. There's a big mountain to climb still.
Coaching is a big part of it. That's leadership. That's shaping the players and the output on the field. It's developing the players. I firmly believe you need a diverse perspective in terms of player development — it's really critical.
It takes people who are in leadership now to create access and opportunities. Where we need to get to is women weighing in and having their opinion heard. You need leadership — which I'm confident that we have here with the Vikings — that is open to you offering an idea and will hear you out. Not every idea sees the light of day, but we're going to at least make you feel heard and that your opinion is valued and you should speak up. We need more of that.
You need ownership to start hiring head coaches and GMs who are focused on culture. That's exactly what the Vikings did with our process in hiring Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O'Connell. The more we can get ownership groups focused on the importance of a strong culture in organizations, the more you're going to see people committed to doing this work.
You know if someone gets an interview for an executive position that they are qualified to do the job. They wouldn't get the interview otherwise. Then you have to go deeper. I don't feel like it's that far away that a woman will be hired as general manager in the NFL.
THE RISING STAR
Nia Holloway has never known a time when she didn't have opportunity. The 18-year-old just graduated from Eden Prairie High School, where she played basketball and won the state title in high jump twice. The 50th anniversary of Title IX has opened her eyes to the battles women have fought to get what she has today. As told to Jim Paulsen, Star Tribune high school sports reporter.
Grateful, and geared for change
My grandmother grew up in Mississippi. She talks about how many gifts we have today that she didn't have. There were a lot of inequities toward Black women, particularly in the South, and she didn't have the opportunities that we do today.
A really big thing in Black culture is honoring your ancestors. So many women that have come before me have walked such a hard path. The best way for me to honor them is to show respect for what they've gone through. My mother grew up here and in Alabama. There were times when she would go into a grocery store and not feel safe. It's a privilege to have the opportunity to walk around safely today.
I didn't know much about Title IX until this year, and I know now we need to keep pushing forward for equality. There's still more we can do and more women can have. Watching the U.S. women's national soccer team pushing for equal pay, I saw their perseverance and watched how they pushed so hard. They got it.
There are two more things beyond equal pay that I would like to see: First, more representation on TV. You see things like axe throwing and cornhole on ESPN when there's a great women's basketball game going on somewhere. That should change.
And second, we need to help Black women coaches get the respect they deserve. One day, I'd like to help put an end to that.
Taylor Landfair is a terrific player on one of the most successful teams at the University of Minnesota: Gophers volleyball. She's excited about the changes that are happening all around sports right now. As told to Chip Scoggins, columnist for the Star Tribune.
No good reason to hold us down
I think people need to realize that it's not really a race to see if boys are better or girls are better. We all need to collaborate and come together in how we view athletes.
I also think there are so many different stereotypes that are around, like, "Oh, you hit like a girl." Or, "You throw like a girl." There's a negative connotation that girls are always going to be lesser than boys. That's not a positive thing. It causes a lot of stress on girls, especially younger athletes. It creates the feeling of, "Well, what's the point of me doing this because I know that boys are going to be doing this better than me." No matter what, girls can do exactly what boys can do. And honestly, sometimes even better.
I personally think there are a few different male sports that get more resources than girls' sports in general. I wish we could get an explanation as to why they get all these benefits — or give other sports more benefits. You're not asking or wanting to take away from anyone. That's not the goal. It's just about giving more resources to other sports.
The arrival of name, image and likeness opportunities in college sports has showed that women's sports are popular and marketable. Some of the biggest NIL deals are going to women athletes. There used to be so many stereotypes that women can't get paid more and shouldn't get paid more. But now that they are, you're seeing it at eye level that women can do exactly what guys do.
Nicole M. LaVoi is the director for the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota. LaVoi wants the 50th anniversary of Title IX to be just as much about what progress still needs to be made. As told to Kent Youngblood, who covers the Lynx and Gophers women's basketball for the Star Tribune.
Rethink resources, representation
A number of things still need to happen for girls and women in sports. Here are three:
First, the resources allocated toward female athletes, girls and women in sports programs need to be equal. That's not happening. A lot of it is football. College football is always the big elephant in the room. It sucks up resources, has giant coaching staffs and a large team. In any given year, there are maybe 12-15 Power Five football programs that create profit. Most programs are a complete resource drain on the athletic department. The idea that football pays for everything else is a false narrative.
Second, we need a gender-diverse workforce in sports. That doesn't fall under Title IX. But if we have millions of girls and women playing sports, they need same-identity role models in positions of power. Whatever level you're at, women coaches are still in the minority. And women coaching men at the high school or college level, it's very rare.
I get this a lot: "Oh, LaVoi, are you saying no men should coach women?" I've never said that. The University of Minnesota is a great example: Brad Frost (women's hockey coach) and Hugh McCutcheon (volleyball) are great coaches, great people. Their athletes have a wonderful experience. I just want more female athletes to have the opportunity to be coached by women at some point in their sports careers, and many do not.
And third: We need equal participation opportunities. Look at the numbers. Whether it's youth, college or high school, boys and men still outnumber girls and women. In fact, the total number of girls and women playing sports today is still not to the level where boys and men were in 1972. You have 60,000 more men getting an opportunity to play sports at the college level and 1.13 million more boys in high school sports than girls.
We know when individuals get to play sports, they have the opportunity to accrue positive developmental, social, academic and life-skill benefits.
Cheryl Reeve has played, coached and led. Her path: sports growing up, then playing for La Salle University, followed by coaching positions in college and in the WNBA before coming to the Lynx before the 2010 season. She wants to see more Cheryl Reeves on sidelines. As told to Kent Youngblood, who covers the Lynx and WNBA for the Star Tribune.
We need more women in coaching
I think where we're heading is that, in society what is considered the norm with women in sports will change. And when that changes, that will change the way they're treated and supported. Whether it's sponsorship dollars or TV dollars, all those things will grow.
Things like the Minnesota Aurora (soccer), the Whitecaps (hockey), the Vixen (football), all those leagues will grow.
I think the WNBA and soccer will still be the leaders. But each of the others will go up a notch. As we go up a notch, so will they. Rather than a semi-pro soccer team, we'll have a pro team. There will be more than 12 WNBA teams. The opportunities brought about by the legislation will expand.
I don't know how quickly this will happen. I just know participation numbers are crazy and will continue to explode.
We need more women in coaching — that goes hand-in-hand with this growth, and their growing desire to coach. When Title IX came into being, there was more money invested, and that's when men in leadership took over. The people who were making the decision about who was coaching changed. Because there was more money, then it went up to the athletics directors, typically white men, and they were hiring their comfort level.
Women in coaching has never gotten back up to the level it was prior to Title IX. At the rate of recent growth, it would take more than 100 years to reach pre-Title IX levels.
Eagan native Mallory Weggemann swam in her first Paralympics in 2012. After winning five medals across three Paralympic Games, she's still going strong. But now that she's ready to start a family, she's hoping for greater progress in reducing the barriers women athletes face during pregnancy and motherhood. As told to Rachel Blount, who covers Olympics sports for the Star Tribune.
Athlete-moms need more support
There are a lot of professional athletes competing through those childbearing years, men and women. The difference is, men don't have to make the decision of when to have kids based on their professional trajectory. Women do. And oftentimes, your childbearing years line up with your performance years. And so, how do you find a way to allow space for both?
We're just starting to scratch the surface of what equity looks like for female athletes as they choose to simultaneously go on the journey of becoming parents. We at Team USA didn't receive maternity benefits until 2019. We could lose our health insurance and national team benefits if we got pregnant, because by default we wouldn't be able to make our national team's standard. Now, the maternity protection freezes our status the minute we become pregnant and protects us for 18 months. But we didn't have that before.
We need to be able to see women being professional athletes till they're 40, like Tom Brady, and being able to have a storied career. And not seeing women retire purely because they also wanted to have a family.
The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee maternity benefits were a remarkable step in the right direction. Now, we've seen a shift in sponsors; we've seen Athleta get behind Olympic track star Allyson Felix in her journey as a mother. It shows that next generation of athletes that you don't have to choose. You can compete and do the thing you love until you're 30, 35, 40, if your body can maintain that, just like your male counterparts. And you can also have a family, just like your male counterparts.
Title IX at 50 is an occasional series focused on gender equity in Minnesota sports. The rest of the series can be found here.