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  • Writer's pictureMatilda Butler

Clap Your Hands for These Women of Sports...

Updated: Jul 5, 2022

Bernice Sandler, Godmother of Title IX

…or more accurately, the women who opened sports to all women. Let's celebrate Title IX.

My Father, A Story

My father bought a Wilson tennis racket for my sister with the hope that she would take up the sport. That wooden racket languished in the closet until I became the appropriate age four years later. Nope. I wasn’t interested either. I’m guessing the racket eventually went to Goodwill.

You need to know, I lived in Oklahoma where we learned that:

  • Women glow

  • Men perspire

  • Horses sweat

A young “lady” didn’t play sports because you would probably sweat!

And Those Who Did?

Of course, some females did play sports, but it wasn’t the norm. And a lot of years passed during which the women who did participate had less equipment, fewer coaches (rarely paid), and worse facilities than men. And forget the idea of equal athletic scholarships.

Change Can Come

What did it take to change the situation? What did it take to begin to bring equity in sports? (By the way, as you know we’re still not fully there but we’re much closer.)

Here's the Answer to What It Took

It took many women and a few good men to add Title IX to the Educational Amendments of 1972 — a new law that was signed by President Richard Nixon.

Before Getting Specific

Title IX is known for the benefit of opening sports to women. But, of course, it was much more than that. As you will see below in the language of the law, Title IX also prohibited professional discrimination in employment in institutions that receive Federal funds.

Now, Let's Get Specific

Bernice Sandler was one of those women to whom we owe much. Her story, in many ways, is typical of the time. She graduated in the 1960s, when change may have been afoot, but positive results weren't seen. Sandler knew about discrimination first hand. Finding few fields open to women seeking college degrees, she headed down a fairly traditional path — teaching. And although she pursued her degree in education all the way to the doctorate, she found it almost impossible to get a job. She was told she “came on too strong.” She was told she was “just a housewife who went back to school.” She was told she couldn’t be hired because women stayed home when their children were sick.

Bernice Sandler, Took Action

Ever the optimist, Sandler wrote in 1997, “I knew sex discrimination was immoral, and assumed it was also illegal.” She searched for the foundation of her logic, and eventually found a basically unknown executive order. An order that no one followed. So she sought support in Congress — individuals who would be willing to take the executive order and turn it into legislation that would prohibit sex discrimination in employment and in education.

Fast forward. On June 23, 1972, President Richard Nixon signed his name on the legislation now referred to as Title IX. The words are simple, yet powerful.

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.” Text of Title IX Legislation

Go Ahead. Read That Again

It’s short, sweet, and simple. And yet it says it all.

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.” Text of Title IX Legislation

Look Her Up (Bernice Sandler, that is)

There is much more to the life of Bernice Sandler than I've said here. I urge you to look her up on the Internet and learn more about this amazing woman.

Bernice Sandler has been called the Godmother of Title IX. I hope you all join me in expressing gratitude for what she has done for all women — whether we play sports or not.

And Here are 5 More We Should Know About and Acknowledge

There are many more who were key to the passage of Title IX. But I'd like to focus on just five more (4 women and 1 man) who worked for and shaped Title IX to ensure broader access to sports for American women.

Representative Patsy Mink (Hawaii) has been called a visionary leader in education reform. She was the primary author as well as sponsor of Title IX.

Representative Edith Green (Oregon) helped to introduce the legislation that became known as Title IX.

Senator Birch Bayh (Indiana) is called the “father” of Title IX for his help in writing the legislation and in shepherding it through the Senate. We need more good guys like this.

(Former) CEO of the Women’s Sports Foundation Donna Lopiano:

  • Testified about gender equity before three Congressional committees

  • Was gender equity consultant to the Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare

  • Served on the Title IX Task Force

  • Testified as expert witness in 28 court cases

Lopiano is the bedrock of such efforts as the passage of Title IX. She had the expertise necessary to move knowledge into action.

Well-known athlete Billie Jean King continues to champion Title IX, addresses women’s rights, and speaks on behalf of women in sports in her effort to ensure more access for women to sports.

With a Nod to...

The American writer James Agee wrote the book titled, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Today, in our acknowledgement of those who worked so hard for Title IX to secure more opportunities and fewer barriers to women, I'd like to borrow and slightly change that phrase to:

Let us now praise famous women.


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