Happy Anniversary, Title IXJune 23, 2010
Title IX celebrates its 38th anniversary today, while, simultaneously, a court battle is being waged over whether or not the Quinnipiac University competitive cheerleading squad is considered a sport for Title IX purposes. As a former cheerleader myself, one whose squad collectively had one girl capable of more than a cartwheel, I would have to say no, cheerleading is not a sport. The fact that we were cheerleaders depended more on who we knew than what we could do. Yet the varsity girls all qualified for Varsity Club and got their letters and pins like all the other varsity jocks.
The squads I see today cheering at football and basketball games are a different story, at least in Northern Virginia, where my daughter attends high school. Many of these girls have been taking gymnastics since they were in diapers. They go to daily practices where they sweat buckets, tear ligaments, and sprain body parts … if that’s not dedication, I don’t know what is!
But should cheerleading count as a sport when determining the number of girls participating in high school athletics? Although much of the media’s coverage of the Quinnipiac case this week has focused on whether cheerleading is a sport, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has a definition of what a sport is for the purposes of Title IX compliance. Under that definition, the primary purpose of an athletic team must be competition in order to be considered a sport. Thus, for the purposes of Title IX, most cheerleading squads across the country would not be considered a sport. Rather, they are auxiliaries to the competitive sports they cheer for.
Does the fact that Anytown High School has a cheer squad make up for the fact that it doesn’t field a girls’ soccer or lacrosse team? I contend that it depends on why those teams don’t exist. If they hold lacrosse try outs and only three girls show up, clearly there is no interest at that point in time. Is the school obligated to provide a lacrosse experience for those few interested? Again, I’d say it depends. How many boys were required to show interest before they started the boys’ team? Fair is fair, and it shouldn’t require a Solomon to make the proper determination. Unfortunately, that statement is based on the assumption that everyone agrees on what’s fair.
In many small towns across America, the competitiveness of your football and boys’ basketball programs is often the town’s only claim to fame. The cross-town rivalries are fierce, the games well attended, and the concession stands money-makers. In schools across America, boys on those teams are getting the opportunity to win scholarships to the best universities in our country. Does a girl’s field hockey team really stand a chance when battling for limited financial resources? The budget cuts schools are facing nationwide are deep and devastating. Many gains made by girls’ athletics during the past decades could be severely eroded in the name of the bottom line. Unfair? Yes. Illegal? Absolutely! Inevitable? Most likely – unless Title IX is clearly enforced.
So, as seems to always be the case when one attempts to legislate “fairness,” we have a law in place with plenty of room for loopholes and that depends largely upon voluntary compliance or forced compliance through a few brave whistleblowers. Nevertheless, happy anniversary, Title IX. You’ve allowed millions of girls opportunities many would have been denied. Where would we be without you?
This post is by Cordy Galligan, Director of Corporate Relations at AAUW.