Next month marks the 40th anniversary of a federal law called "Title IX." While the landmark legislation had a great impact on college athletics, it was intended to open doors for women in all aspects of society.
Enacted in 1972, Title IX basically says "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance."
As the play-by-play announcer for Washington Husky women's basketball between 1990 and 2001, I witnessed plenty of gender inequity. One glaring example was at the University of Southern California.
The "Women of Troy" featured stars like Cheryl Miller, Lisa Leslie, and Seattle Storm post Tina Thompson. They were far more successful than the Trojan men's program, but were relegated to play games in a poorly lit, aging, intramural gymnasium.
I can recall a number of times when the visiting players had to change uniforms in a women's restroom. University staff had to usher out a volleyball or badminton class in order to play Pac-10 basketball games.
The Southern California guys not only played in the Los Angeles Sports Arena, but their coaches were paid far more than their female counterparts.
"I know when I went to USC in 1993, there were obvious changes being made because of Title IX," Thompson said, recalling that difficult time. "Coach Marianne Stanley sued the university, and while she didn't win, and her contract was not renewed. The school was obviously doing little things to make sure they were up to task."
Women's locker rooms all of sudden started getting remodeled and better gear began arriving. Today, both USC men and women teams play in the modern Galen Center.
Thompson and Storm guard Katie Smith both appreciate the pioneering women who had to play professionally overseas before the WNBA was created in 1996.
"I don't think either of us grew up thinking this is what we'd be doing for this period of time in our lives," Smith said. "This has really been a surprise and a blessing. That's why I'll do whatever it takes to make sure the league is around forever."
Athletic scholarships for women have grown enormously over the past four decades. Smith is currently working on her masters degree to become a registered dietician.
Before Title IX, the percentage of women becoming lawyers and doctors was roughly eight percent. Today, it's about 48 percent. Parents who once saw their daughters becoming housewives now have no limits to what their girls can dream and achieve.
While that law 40 years ago opened many doors for women athletes, the wage disparity is still an issue. A beginning WNBA player is paid approximately $38,000. A first year NBA player gets a minimum $490,000.
Tina Thompson welcomes the discussion about Title IX, but wants to make sure it's for the right reasons.
"A lot of generations have missed the true meaning of it. If you're not being treated fairly, whether it's at the Boys and Girls Club, or a fortune 500 company, Title IX is in place to make sure women get the same opportunity as everyone else. I am proud that I'm a product of Title IX."