Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.
The Minnesota Lynx, four-time WNBA champions, play three games this week. The Minnesota Aurora take their 6-0-1 record in the preprofessional USL-W women's soccer league to matches against teams from Chicago and St. Louis.
This fall, the Minnesota Whitecaps will begin their Premier Hockey Federation (formerly the National Women's Hockey League) schedule while Minnesota collegiate skaters at the NCAA Division I, II and III levels and Minnesota State High School League level begin play.
Meanwhile, many Minnesota girls and women will just play — any sport, in organized and pickup games, knowing that thanks to the federal rule they will have relatively equal access to playing sports as boys and men do.
Thursday marks the 50th anniversary of the critical reason why: Title IX, a then-little-noted provision in the Education Amendments Act that reads: "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 education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance."
On the face of it that is pretty pedestrian language, without even a mention of women's or girls' sports. But the interpretation sparked a revolution in participation that has benefited generations of athletes and American society in general.
That's especially the case in Minnesota, which has had the country's highest girls' high-school sports participation rate in the country since 2011. A list of A-name athletes attests to it, from gold-medal cross-country skier Jessie Diggins to six U.S. Women's Hockey Team players from the North Star State. College basketball superstar Paige Bueckers is a leader on the court and in the court of public opinion, as one of the top collegiate earners from the NCAA's new Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) rules. And Edina High School and Aurora soccer goalie Bayliss Flynn just signed Minnesota's first high school NIL contract.
That's just mentioning a few. Even more meaningful are the many whose lives have been made incalculably better by being able to compete in team and individual sports. There are now 3 million additional sports opportunities for girls than before Title IX. Today, women make up 44% of all NCAA athletes, compared to 15% before Title IX, according to the Women's Sports Foundation. While these figures reflect extraordinary progress, there's more to do, according to WSF. The significant post-Title IX gains don't mirror another revolution: There are now more female than male students on college campuses. This is another striking reversal from 1972, when Title IX first came into effect.
"There's been tremendous progress made over the last 50 years for girls and women in sport," Karen Issokson-Silver, the WSF's vice president of research and education, told an editorial writer. "We see the significant jump in the number of girls and women who are participating in sport when you compare that to the years pre-Title IX, and so that is really exciting. And it makes us very optimistic about the future of girls and women in sport."
And yet, Issokson-Silver added, there are still equity gaps overall, particularly for girls and women of color, girls and women with disabilities, and girls and women in the LGBTQ community. "So, there is a lot more work to be done to accelerate the pace of change that we've seen so that over the next five, 10, next 50 years so we find ourselves in a place where we've achieved equity."
Title IX is just one example of what good government can do. It's notable now because of the 50th anniversary but not noticed as much daily because it's become such an accepted and expected part of everyday American life. But the change is profound, because sports can be, too.
"Playing sport is essential in that it provides physical, social and emotional well-being," Issokson-Silver said. "It contributes to lifelong skills, everything from communication and collaboration to teamwork and leadership. And we've seen the impact of sport for girls and women on their sense of belonging to community, their achievement in school, and in the workplace. So, in all spheres of life, sport has had a tremendous impact."
And that's thanks, in large part, to Title IX.