It’s been 50 years since the U.S. Congress passed the landmark legislation known as Title IX, which prohibits any federally funded educational program or activity from discrimination based on sex. The legislation opened doors for female participation in K-12 and college sports – but for all the opportunities it created, stark disparities persist.
On this episode of School’s In, Tara VanDerveer, longtime head coach of the Stanford women’s basketball team, joins Graduate School of Education Dean Dan Schwartz and Senior Lecturer Denise Pope to talk about the impact of Title IX on women’s sports. She also shares some of her own experience as an athlete – and a piano student – and the strategies she uses as a coach to keep players motivated.
VanDerveer, the all-time winningest coach in women’s college basketball history, has brought the Stanford team to three national championships since she joined as coach in 1985. She also led the U.S. women’s basketball team to gold in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
Growing up before the passage of Title IX, VanDerveer loved sports, but her options to play were curtailed. “In my ninth-grade yearbook, the boys’ basketball coach, who was also the gym teacher, wrote: To the best basketball player in the ninth grade,” she says. “But I didn’t get to play on a team.”
Title IX was enacted in 1972, gradually increasing opportunities for young women to participate in sports. Still, men continue to get the upper hand in coaching roles and other scenarios, VanDerveer says. “We’re making progress, but we still have a long way to go.”
Case in point: Last spring, during the NCAA college basketball tournaments, controversy erupted when photos contrasting the men’s and women’s weight rooms went viral – a single rack of dumbbells for the women, compared with a cavernous space filled with equipment for the men. Disparities went far beyond the weight room, to the quality of the meals served and even COVID screening tests: Male players were given highly sensitive and reliable PCR tests, while the women received cheaper, less sensitive rapid antigen tests.
“On every single level, there’s a double standard,” says Van Derveer, who points to building a pipeline of female coaches as one step in the way forward. “As a coach, I hire women. We have to train women for these jobs.”
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