By Doug McIntyre
FOX Sports Football Writer
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is part of a FOX Sports series celebrating the 50th anniversary of Title IX, which became law on June 23, 1972. created and recognizing the barriers that still remain.
As the 50th anniversary of Title IX approaches, we are still learning how this landmark legislation changed women’s sports in the US and eventually the world.
Title IX provided female athletes with opportunities they had not had before. In the decades since the law was passed, thousands of women who might not have had a chance otherwise have won thousands of athletic scholarships at some of America’s top universities and earned them on the sports field.
Gradually Title IX also changed the face of the national teams representing the United States. At the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics, when the IX title was adopted, only 84 of the 400 athletes on Team USA were women. Four decades later there were more women than men in London. (At the Beijing Winter Games earlier this year, there were 115 men, 108 women, and one US non-binary entry.)
Perhaps no American team has benefited more from the IX title than the four-time Women’s World Cup champion. USWNT won the first women’s world championship in 1991 and the first of four Olympic crowns in 1996 – the first year’s medals were awarded to women’s football.
“Title IX gave our women’s team a head start,” said US Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone, who, as a sophomore linebacker at the University of North Carolina, was the youngest player on that American team in 1996 in Atlanta. “I think that’s why we started from the top and why we stay at the top for so long.
“Everyone else is trying to catch up.”
As profound as Title IX’s impact on the USWNT was, today its impact can be seen far beyond America. According to Parlow Cone, this created a domino effect in the women’s game. Over time, U.S. dominance at the international level forced other countries—in particular, wealthy Western European countries such as France and Germany, which had long fielded elite men’s teams—to invest in their own programs.
In recent years, there has been an explosion of professional women’s football in Europe. At the 2019 World Cup in France, seven of the eight quarter-finalists were from the continent. In April, 91,648 fans gathered at the legendary Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona to watch the home team take on Wolfsburg of Germany in the first leg of the UEFA Women’s Champions League semi-final, setting a world attendance record for a women’s match.
However, this is a relatively recent phenomenon. The first women’s professional league in the United States began in 2001 but lasted only two years. The National Women’s Soccer League, the third attempt at a sustainable professional women’s association in the US, is just ten years old. Abroad, Italian titan Juventus did not field a women’s team until 2017. The Manchester United women’s team was founded a year later.
For a long time, the NCAA has been as close to professional football as many foreign players can get. Canadian Christine Sinclair, the all-time leading scorer in international football, for men and women, attended the University of Portland, setting a single-season record and winning the national title in her senior season.
“We had so many of our players playing in the States that I often had to play against my teammates,” said longtime Canada goaltender Karina LeBlanc, who played for four years at the University of Nebraska. “It was the highest level of the game, but it was something more – there was an infrastructure that was in place. The gym, the food we got every day, it was at the level of a football team.
“Our football team won the Orange Bowl and because of the IX title they had to split the proceeds,” added LeBlanc, who is now CEO of the Portland Thorns NWSL. “Investments have increased significantly in our women’s football team. The importance of women’s sports in universities has increased because of Title IX.”
The struggle for a level playing field continues around the world, even on the world stage. The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup was played on artificial turf rather than natural, much to the chagrin of the participants. “[It] was a disdain for the women’s game,” former US coach Jill Ellis, who won that world championship and a second in 2019, told FOX Sports. “Because that would never happen to the men’s team.”
Similar humiliations still regularly occur in the professional game.
“I wish there was an IX title for clubs because it would have the same impact,” said Costa Rican national team member Raquel “Rocky” Rodriguez, who moved to the US as a teenager to play for Penn State. Rodriguez scored the winning goal in the 2015 College Cup Final for the Nittany Lions, whose program began in 1979 after women were banned from high school football. A well-traveled professional over the past six years, Rodriguez, now a linebacker for the Shipovs, noted that most women’s professional teams still operate on modest budgets.
However, investment in women’s football is skyrocketing at club level, especially in Europe. The popularity and cultural significance of the sport there, combined with the vast financial resources available to fanatically supported centuries-old organizations, suggests that the next step in women’s football will take place abroad. For the first time, promising US national team players decided to start their club career not in the NWSL, but in well-known foreign teams. Last month, USWNT forward Katarina Macario, who signed with France’s Lyon in 2020 after starring at Stanford, became the first American to score in a Champions League final.
The NCAA still produces lower-level professionals as well as dual nationals such as Ali Riley, who was born and raised in Southern California but captains the New Zealand national team.
“Sending varsity footballers to play in these other leagues has also increased those leagues in terms of talent pool and made those leagues competitive,” said Riley, who now plays for hometown Angel City after the shutdowns in Sweden. Germany and England. “Not everyone can play NWSL.”
For now, however, the US remains the flag bearer when it comes to women’s football. This is largely due to Title IX.
“New Zealand doesn’t have a professional national league, so women could go to the US to make a career,” Riley said. “Getting a scholarship to play is worth tens of thousands of dollars, plus you get an excellent education.
“Obviously we are still vying for more fame and recognition,” she added. “Everything takes time. Once Title IX was passed, everything at once became not just super equal everywhere. But compared to other countries, female athletes have status in the US. Williams sisters, it plays a huge role.”
So is the success of people like Ellis. She is the only coach, whether male or female, to have won two world championships since Italy’s Vittorio Pozzo first did so in 1938. However, when Ellis was growing up in England, she was not allowed to play in an organized environment. The English Football Association effectively banned women’s football until 1971, when Ellis was 5 years old.
“I have never heard of Title IX living in England. I didn’t know what that was,” said Ellis, who is now NWSL’s San Diego wave president. “But the global impact of the passage of the US law provided an opportunity and set a standard for inclusion that reverberated throughout the world. Because the US was leading the sport in so many ways, people looked to it and it became a model, a benchmark, and a goal.
“Outside the US, Title IX has affected so many little girls who have never had the opportunity to play sports. I’m not in a position to be able to coach American women in two world championships without this legislation.
“All roads lead to this”.
Doug McIntyre, one of North America’s leading football journalists, has covered the US men’s and women’s teams at several World Cups. Prior to joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff correspondent for ESPN and Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @ByDougMcIntyre.
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