Title IX almost 40: In it for the long run
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Grete Eliassen was not going to let a little thing like a torn anterior cruciate ligament stand in the way of her lobbying congressional leaders to support women’s sports.
Eliassen, who hopes to compete in the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games in slopestyle skiing, had more pressing issues today in the Rayburn building. Wearing a brace around her right leg and toting crutches, Eliassen was in the nation’s capital to meet with various leaders in congress and to join several Olympic champions to celebrate the 26th annual National Girls and Women in Sports Day. The day included an early birthday party for the 40th anniversary of Title IX. The actual anniversary is in June but there were no complaints about having cake along with a panel discussion about the state of women’s sports.
Celebrations were happening throughout the country but the one in D.C. Served as a centerpiece, and included leaders from girl Scouts, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary, Girls Inc., the Women’s Sports Foundation and the National Women’s Law Center. The theme for this year is: “Title IX at 40: In it for the long haul”.
“Forty years ago, Suzy Chafee was leading the way for Title IX, and now I am a part of it,” said Eliassen, who suffered her knee injury at the Dew Tour competition last month in Killingon, Vt. “Making an impact beyond just my sport is what it’s all about.”
Besides being an Olympic alpine skier and well-known spokeswoman for ChapStick, Chafee was the first woman board member of the U.S. Olympic Committee and an early champion of Title IX.
Eliassen hopes to follow Chafee both on the Olympic slopes and as a champion of women’s sports issues.
Eliassen was joined in Washington by Olympic gold medalist figure skater Sarah Hughes, Olympic hurdles champion Benita Fitzgerald-Mosley and gold medalist swimmers Nancy Hogshead-Makar and Donna de Varona.
In addition to the Olympians, Eliassen and former national soccer team player Sarah Sample was another high-level sports activist: Cornell McClellan. He represents the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition and is the personal trainer for President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and their two daughters.
McClellan, a former martial arts instructor and fitness club owner as well as a father and grandfather, noted some of the benefits of getting young women involved in sports — most notably when it comes to academic success, lower rates of depression and overall health benefits.
When he spoke, he alluded to Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign and even began his talk by leading the audience in a brief round of squats and other exercises.
“I can tell you that (the Obamas), they lead by example,” McClellan said. “The White House is walking, running and skipping the talk.”
But perhaps the most inspiring speaker among those distinguished guests was an eighth grader from New York named Veronica Hanc.
She moved the audience and the panel members when she spoke about how sports, in particular basketball, helped her learn leadership and sportsmanship skills, in addition to proper shooting form. It also helped her find positive role models, especially with her coach, who was in attendance with her in Washington, D.C.
Eliassen, who grew up in a very different atmosphere with a father with whom she played catch and a mother who took her skiing, looked at Hanc as the reason why Title IX and programs such as Girls Inc. and the Women’s Sports Foundation are so important today.
Eliassen is more than aware and thankful of her good fortune. She is among a handful of elite skiers who makes a living in sports and even has been featured in some new TV commercials and boasts a clothing line.
And hopefully, she can add the Olympian tag to her name now that her sport is being included for the first time in Sochi.
“Just having the sport added to the Olympics means so much,” said Eliassen, a senior at the University of Utah. “And we’re using the same course as the men.
Still, there are inequities to be resolved, she said. For instance, men’s events are often on prime time whereas women’s events are broadcast in the afternoon, and the men tend to earn more from endorsement deals.
But she cannot help but be lifted when she meets with Congressional leaders to help bring more change to the gender landscape in sports. Eliassen and the Olympic athletes spent much of the day meeting with various members of Congress to help get two bills (H.R. 458 and S. 1269) passed. The legislation, known as the High School Athletics Transperancy Bills, would require that schools disclose basic information on the number of female and male athletes as well as expenditures made for each sports team. The reasoning is that if the information is public then any discrepancies would be public and therefore, can be changed.
The women athletes who attended the panel discussion had a range of experiences with Title IX, its history and its future.
Sarah Hughes, who won the gold medal in figure skating almost exactly a decade ago in Salt Lake City, said she had a packed schedule of meetings with Congressional members.
“It started at 7 a.m., and I have a train ticket to get back to New York at 6,” she said.
Hughes, 26, was among the younger women in the room, and one of the few athletes who never knew a time without Title IX. But others, namely Lillian Greene-Chamberlain, has been part of this movement decades before Title IX was implemented in 1972. She was the first U.S. women’s champion in the 800 meters before it became an Olympic event for women and in 1959 was the Pan American Games champion.
The former Women Sports Foundation trustee and the first woman and American to serve as director of Physical Education and Sports Program for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Greene-Chamberlain was recently watching young girls compete in Madison Square Garden. The girls were participating in the 38th Annual Colgate Women’s Games, which was followed that evening by the U.S. Open which featured Olympic medalists. Greene-Chamberlain was excited to show off color photos of the young upstarts in the event program.
“I have been involved with this for so long and some of the girls are now grown up and are doctors,” said Greene-Chamberlain, who sported a “IX” pin on her jacket lapel. “It’s exciting. All of this is just in my DNA.”
And then there was Fitzgerald-Mosley, one of the first beneficiaries of Title IX. Today she is the chief of sport performance for USA Track & Field and is the chair of the Women’s Sports Foundation’s board of trustees.
“I look at Donna and Nancy and myself and we’re living examples of all of this work,” Fitzgerald-Mosley said. “I grew up in Northern Virginia and started running track in middle school, and then I went to the University of Tennessee. I was born in 1961. I am a Title IX baby. I reaped the benefits from Day One.
“I went on to win a gold medal and I call it the gift that keeps on giving because it allows me to do things like this.”
Many of the Olympians who attended the panel in Washington will meet again Feb.16-18 in Los Angeles when the IOC holds its Women and Sport Conference for the first time on U.S. soil. Among dignitaries expected to speak at the conference are IOC president Jacques Rogge, two-time Olympic gold medalist middle distance runner and chairman of the London Organizing Committee for the London Games Sebastian Coe and IOC’s Women and Sport Commission chairperson and U.S. Olympic rowing medalist Anita DeFrantz. Fitzgerald-Mosley, de Varona and Hogshead-Makar will be participating in the conference as well.
And Eliassen might continue what they all started by competing in Sochi.
But today they were focused on celebrating nearly 40 years of successes and the possibility of even more decades of growth and success to come.
For more information about Title IX, research and advocacy information, log on to: http://www.womenssportsfoundation.org.
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