“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 educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance…”
Forty years ago, those words introduced the landmark Title IX legislation that leveled the playing field for women’s sports. And last night, a panel of female sports professionals gathered at UT to talk about how Title IX shaped their careers.
The “SixteenWomen” forum (named for the ancient Greek women who founded the Heraean Games) included Carol Stiff, ESPN vice president of programming; Mimi Griffin, owner and operator of MSG Promotions; Pat Lowry, Longhorn Network coordinating producer; and Eryn McMahan, senior account executive at IMG College. Former women’s basketball coach Jody Conradt and women’s track and field coach Beverly Kearney were also in attendance at the Belo Center for New Media.
Each woman spoke about how Title IX aided her profession, from sports marketing to programming. “ESPN has taken great strides in promoting women’s sports,” Lowry said. “Carol [Stiff] started at ESPN in 1990, and I did a little research. In 1995, there were five games in the women’s tournament games were televised on our network. Today every game in the women’s tournament is televised by our network.”
Stiff counted down a list of her career highlights in a SportsCenter Top 10-Style presentation. The events that made her list ranged from attending her first college basketball game with her mother to seeing the 1999 World Cup. But her number-one career high, Stiff said, was when former UT women’s basketball coach Jody Conradt topped off an undefeated season with a national championship during the 1985-1986 season.
Conradt—who won 900 games and whose highly decorated career prompted the University to commission a bronze statue in her likeness, set to be unveiled later this afternoon—accepted the first-ever Texas Program in Sports and Media Title IX Legacy Award last night from Kearney.
Conradt came to the University in 1976, four years after the passage of Title IX. Conradt said that she never dreamed she could be a coach because her coaches were all men, and she acknowledged how far women’s athletics have come. “When I started out, if you had a car you made the team,” she joked.
Conradt was also quick to stress Title IX’s significant classroom influence.“Before Title IX, less than ten percent of medical students and less than ten percent of the students in law school were women,” she said. “Now those numbers are almost 50-50.”
Though not originally intended specifically for women’s athletics, the Title IX legislation is best-known for equality on the field and in the gym. Before the legislation was passed on June 23, 1972, only 31,000 women played college sports; today around three million have. The result is that women continue to make huge strides. The U.S. sent more women than men to the 2012 London Olympics, and female Olympians brought home 63 percent of the U.S.’ gold medals.
Jody Conradt. Photo courtesy Texas Athletics.