On the 40th anniversary of Title IX, female U.S. Olympians demonstrated in powerful and unmistakable terms how equal access to resources and equal opportunities to compete can pay off on the podium. For the first time women outnumbered men on the U.S. Olympic team, and their 29 gold medals in London accounted for two thirds of those won by the U.S. Brian Cazeneuve, Sarah Kwak, Grant Wahl, Melissa Segura, Phil Taylor, Chris Mannix, Kelli Anderson and L. Jon Wertheim look at the distinct characteristics the American women showed us—in performances ranging from the uplifting to the downright dominant—over the course of two historic weeks in London.
Gymnastics Team – Fierceness – Oozing flair, grace and poise, the Fierce Five led from the first rotation of the team finals and won the first Olympic team title for U.S. gymnasts since 1996 (by Brian Cazeneuve).
Kim Rhode, shooting – Longevity – Rhode became the first American to win an individual medal in five straight Olympic games with her gold in skeet shooting (by Sarah Kwak).
Claressa Shields, boxing – Focus – After the American men struggled in their London matches, Claressa Shields showed maturity beyond her 17 years, blocking out distractions during the games, winning middleweight gold and staving off the first shutout of U.S. boxing at an Olympics (by Chris Mannix).
Swim Team – Unity – If there was a defining characteristic of the women’s swim team in London, it was a spirit of sororal fun and connection, fostered in part by Teri McKeever, the U.S. women’s first-ever female head coach (by Kelli Anderson).
Serena Williams, tennis – Dominance – On her way to gold in London, Williams swept aside the three players most recently ranked No.1, perhaps the most impressive showing of her career (by L. Jon Wertheim).
Women’s Soccer Team – Resilience – The U.S. team proved its mettle in an epic Olympic semifinal win over Canada, in which Magan Rapinoe keyed the comeback by scoring two goals. (by Grant Wahl).
Brenda Villa, water polo – Persistence – After her three previous trips to the Olympics ended with silver (twice) and bronze, Villa finally stood atop the medal stand in London (by Melissa Segura).
Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings, Beach Volleyball – Wisdom – The dynamic duo knew everything there was to know about becoming an Olympic champion, and there wasn’t a situation on the sand that they hadn’t seen (by Phil Taylor).
Women’s Basketball Team – Consistency – The U.S. women’s hoops team’s winning legacy has been gold or bust for the past 16 years (by Kelli Anderson).
In this week’s issue, Sports Illustrated shines a light on the far reaching impact of Title IX. The historic legislation has extended beyond just the playing field, changing the role of women in society across the country. As we sit on the cusp of the 40 year anniversary of this historic law, this week’s issue features nine stories that reflect the spirit of Title IX. Senior editor Trisha Blackmar oversaw the project and was instrumental in the conceptualization and creation of this unique issue.
Inside Sports Illustrated: SI’s examination of Title IX includes contributions from more than a dozen writers and photographers. How long did it take to complete this comprehensive issue and what were some of your biggest challenges?
Trisha Blackmar: We started planning the issue back in the fall. The possibilities were overwhelming at first: should we focus on the law’s history? Assess what’s going on now? Propose changes for the future? Most of all, I didn’t want the package to be preachy or filled with a lot of statistics and charts. We decided to do a collection of essays as a way to cover a lot of territory and balance the obvious subjects—Billie Jean King, for example—with more obscure references that might interest SI’s readers, such as how Texas football coach Darrell Royal helped to unwittingly bulletproof the legislation.
Inside Sports Illustrated: Nine different essays (Nine for IX) are included in this week’s issue, reporting on a variety of monumental moments throughout women’s athletic history. Are there any other moments that you wish could have included? If so, which one comes to mind?
Trisha Blackmar: One is the 1999 Women’s World Cup final. We referenced this game in several ways (see Brandi Chastain’s iconic celebration), but this event certainly could have been its own essay. I can’t think of a time when more attention was focused on women’s sports in such a positive way.
Inside Sports Illustrated: While researching the development and implementation of Title IX, what did you find most fascinating?
Trisha Blackmar: It was interesting to trace the legal challenges to the law, and to see the many ways Title IX has been used to protect women’s rights, especially in terms of sexual harassment and sexual assault on college campuses.
Inside Sports Illustrated: As a former collegiate athlete, does the 40th anniversary of Title IX hold special significance in your life?
Trisha Blackmar: Absolutely. As a so-called Title IX baby, I came of age at the perfect time to take advantage of the opportunities the law helped create. My athletic career was not notable in any way, but playing college-level sports had a huge impact on my life and career. My competitive instinct serves me well in the halls of a sports magazine!
The Power of Play isthe headline for Sports Illustrated’s examination of Title IX’s legacy as we sit on the cusp of the 40 year anniversary of this historic law. This analysis is played out through the prism of nine stories that reflect the spirit of Title IX. Senior editor Trisha Blackmar oversaw the project which includes contributions from more than a dozen writers and photographers and lands on the cover of the May 7, 2012 issue of Sports Illustrated, on newsstands now.
The stories featured throughout the anniversary package include:
OLYMPIC MOVEMENT – KELLI ANDERSON
After disappointing finishes at the 1992 and ’96 Olympics, the success of the United States women’s basketball team at the ‘96 Atlanta Olympic Games led to increased visibility in other women’s sports. It helped spawn notoriety around the WNBA.
Former WNBA president Val Ackerman said, “The 1996 Olympic team was foundational. If it had been a flop, it probably would have deterred us. Instead it was reinforcing. That team attracted strong crowds and became a huge story.”
NAKED POWER – MICHAEL BAMBERGER
Senior writer Michael Bamberger revisits the spring of 1976 when Chris Ernst, the captain of Yale women’s rowing team, and 18 of her teammates marched into the office of Joni Barnett, the school’s director of women’s sports, stripped naked to expose large Title IX emblazoned across their chests and backs—all in protest of un equal treatment between the men’s and women’s teams.
That summer, Ernst and a Yale teammate, were on the first U.S. team at the first Olympics that including women’s rowing. Today, Yale’s rowing center is called Gilder Boathouse, named after Richard Gilder, who contributed $4 million for its construction. His daughter, Ginny, had marched into Barnett’s office with Ernst in ’76 and currently owns the WNBA’s Seattle Storm.
LET’S JUST PLAY BALL – MELISSA SEGURA (@MelissaSeguraSI)
Maria Pepe was just an 11-year-old girl from Hoboken who loved to play baseball with her friends in 1972. After playing three games for her little league team, Pepe was banned because the rules stated no girls could play. The National Organization for Women did not agree and they filed a mountain of lawsuits against Little League in New Jersey’s division on Maria’s behalf.
Their support of Maria and all girls who loved the game ultimately changed Little League bylaws forever, permitting your girls participation. This lawsuit has helped lead to the participation of about 10 million female Little Leaguers.
SPIRITS OF ’72 – PHIL TAYLOR (@SI_PhilTaylor)
Olympic gold medalists Lisa Leslie (basketball), Mia Hamm (soccer) and Summer Sanders (swimming) turn 40 this year as well. Three of women’s sports biggest stars were born the same year that Title IX came into this world. They were each born at the perfect time to take advantage of opportunities the law helped create.
Said Leslie, “I’d like to think I’ve made a difference, been a role model for other women athletes. But Title IX has made the biggest difference of all.”
WINNING AT POLITICAL FOOTBALL – ALEXANDER WOLFF
In its early going, Title IX had plenty of powerful people looking to dismantle it, fearing Title IX would have a negative impact on revenue-producing sports such as football and basketball. Senior writer Alex Wolff spotlights some of the challenges mounted against Title IX beginning with the “Tower Amendment” spearheaded by Texas Republican Senator John Tower and University of Texas AD Darryl Royal.
WHEN BILLY BEAT BOBBY – JON WERTHEIM (@Jon_Wertheim)
When Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in the fall of 1973, in front of an estimated TV audience of nearly 50 million, it was about much more than tennis. This victory proved to be a chance for all women to be inspired and know that they could do anything.
Said King, “For me, it was life and death. Losing wasn’t an option.”
A CHANCE TO BE A CHAMPION – GEORGE DOHRMANN (@georgedohrmann)
Excluded from the NCAA until 1980, senior writer George Dohrmann looks at the impact of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) had on forwarding competition among female athletes. Approximately 1,000 schools joined the alternative model to the NCAA, which administered title games in 19 sports.
Cathy Rush, who won three AIAW titles and appeared in six straight final fours as basketball coach at Immaculata, said, “It changed the perspective of the players and the coaches. You had a reason to have a good team, to have good players.”
FATHER FIGURES – ALEXANDER WOLFF
A girl’s best friend in the fight for playing time was often her dad and no one exemplified this like Herb Dempsey. He recalls Bethel High’s 1982 3-6 football team getting a massive homecoming gala while his daughter’s start ranked volleyball team was barely even recognized by the school. He decided in that moment that he would spend his golden years advocating for gender equity in sports.
As Donna Lopiano, former CEO of Women’s Sports Foundation and an expert on Title says, the fathers really led the revolution on the ground. She said, “They understood how much sport gave children. Dad was the one who took his daughter into the backyard to play catch. Mom would have, but because she’d never had the chance to play, she didn’t understand how much it meant.”
TESTING THE WATERS – NANCY RAMSEY
Nancy Ramsey talks to Sharon Berg, a member of the first group of female athletes from a major program (University of Miami) to receive an athletic scholarship. She made the most of her opportunity by winning AIAW swimming titles in the 200 and 400 freestyle, as well as team national titles in her sophomore and junior years.
Said Berg, “I felt a responsibility to do real well because this was something new. It was the feeling of being a pioneer. You do it right.”
On the Tablet: Photo gallery of SI.com’s top 40 female athletes of the Title IX era and a podcast with Alexander Wolff on Title IX dad’s.