On June 23, 1972, President Richard Nixon signed into place 37 words that would inevitably change the future of girls in sports:
“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.”
This legislation effectively opened the door for girls to have equal access to sports in their schools. In 1971, only 310,000 girls and women in the U.S. participated in high and college sports, compared with the 3.5 million girls and women who play sports today.
Despite Title IX’s success, there are still fewer girls playing sports compared with boys. By the time girls turn 14 years old, they are twice as likely to drop out of playing sports for a variety of reasons, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation. Lack of access plays a significant part. WSF, founded by tennis legend Billie Jean King in 1974, estimates that girls have 1.3 million fewer opportunities to play high school sports than boys have.
To help fight that gap, several sports organizations over the years have been founded to help engage girls in athletics who otherwise would have never played or who would have quit playing.
Dr. Kimberly Clay, founder of Play Like a Girl, grew up after Title IX was enacted. Regardless, sports were not an option for her to play in her small town of rural Mississippi.
“Early in my life, I struggled with my weight. I was physically active in the sense of normal childhood activities like climbing trees and running around outside but didn’t have equal opportunity compared to my brothers to participate in sports,” Clay recalled.
“Being a high achiever in other areas, I never really processed that I didn’t play sports in high school or middle school.”