February 7, 2018 marks the 32nd Annual National Girls and Women in Sports Day, coinciding with the opening of the Winter Olympic Games on February 9, 2018. Fair Play for Girls in Sports, a project of Legal Aid at Work, celebrates by noting the amazing accomplishments of female Olympians, many of whom would not be competing but for Title IX. The 1972 law requiring gender equity in federally-funded K-12 schools, colleges, and universities paved the way for many American girls and woman to become great athletes and continues to spur educational institutions to treat girls and women equally to create a truly level playing field.
Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omeoga are three pioneering women who will represent Nigeria in the Games as the first individuals to represent Africa in the Olympic bobsled event. The team members, who were born in the United States and have parents who emigrated from Nigeria, each excelled on American college track and field teams where Title IX led to phenomenal growth in female athletics. Before Title IX, approximately 30,000 women participated at the college level and today, 45 years later, over 300,000 women participate. The bobsledding team looks forward to serving as an “example for their country and women in the sport.”
Maame Biney is yet another rising star athlete, not yet 18, who will be the first African-American woman to represent the United States in Olympic speed skating. Maame, while setting records on the ice, is a dedicated student, enjoying chemistry in particular, and is set to graduate from high school on time with her classmates. Indeed, many athletes achieve academically because of their sports involvement and disciplined orientation. And more than 3,000,000 girls now play sports in high school, up from 300,000 before Title IX became effective.
The U.S. women’s hockey team represents another aspect of the fight for equality given the team’s recent, successful battle for equity in pay. They’re now setting their sights on Olympic gold.
Fair Play celebrates not only these top-notch female athletes but also the unsung heroes throughout the country and the world—the girls and women, beyond the spotlight, who play sports in their schools, colleges, universities, and recreation centers, who strive daily to reap the mental and physical benefits of play and the lifelong rewards of participation.
Representing girls, particularly in middle and high school, Fair Play seeks to ensure female youth in underserved areas, low-income communities, and communities of color can join sports teams and experience equity on such teams, to perhaps one day reach for an Olympic dream. Unfortunately, many barriers still exist, depriving girls of equity in opportunity and treatment. Over the last 15 years, the Fair Play project has spurred schools to upgrade athletic facilities to equalize treatment and benefits for female athletes, add new teams for girls where opportunity lacked, and improve amenities such as uniforms and locker rooms that for too long were unequal.
This National Girls and Women in Sports Day, Fair Play encourages everyone to emphasize the importance of sports for girls and women by rooting on the female athletes of the Olympic games, cheering for a girl pursuing athletic goals in elementary, middle, and high school, watching a women’s college sporting event on television or in person, and spreading the word about Fair Play and Title IX!