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Seattle Storm reflect on how Title IX paved way for women

Tina Thompson and Katie Smith talk to members of the press about the 40th anniversary of Title IX. (710 ESPN/Bill Swartz)

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.”

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