MCCULLERS COLUMN: The progress behind us, and the long road ahead

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You may not recognize the names of Bernice Sandler, Edith Green and Patsy Mink.

Their stories will not rise to the top of sports annals like those of well-known athletes and legendary coaches, but the impact these three women had on sports as we know them is matched by few.

A women’s rights activist dubbed “the godmother of Title IX,” Sandler joined Green and Mink, both U.S. representatives, to help ensure the passage of that infamous piece of legislation, one that ensured women equal access to activities, including sports, that receive federal funding.

Much progress has been made toward women’s equality in sports since June 1972, when President Richard Nixon signed Title IX into law, but events throughout the decades since have continually reminded us that there is still much work to be done.

First, the good news.

Thanks to the work of people like Sandler, Green and Mink, hundreds of thousands more girls and women have become involved in athletic programs since Title IX’s inception.

Before the law’s passage, a mere seven percent of girls participated in prep sports. Today, young women account for more than 40 percent of those taking part in high school athletics.

Increased participation in sports at the youth and high school levels has, accordingly, increased opportunities for women seeking to further their athletic careers at the college level.

But while participation has spiked, finances and media coverage invested in women’s sports have lagged behind, particularly at the college level, despite increased public interest in recent years.

While participation is nearly equal between men and women, collegiate athletic programs spend, on average, less than a quarter of their annual budgets on women’s sports. Less than 10 percent of media coverage at the college level is dedicated to women.

Much worse than any of the above statistics, however, is the abuse all too many women have endured while pursuing their athletic dreams.

This abuse has garnered much attention in recent weeks due to the revelations of heinous behavior by Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State physician who is the subject of sexual abuse allegations from more than 140 women.

Though the scale of Nassar’s abuse is far greater than that of other incidents, his behavior is not unique.

Accusations of sexual abuse in women’s sports have increased in the past decade, and more can be expected as the #MeToo movement crescendos.

As National Girls and Women in Sports Day (Feb. 7) approaches, it’s the perfect time to reflect on and celebrate the tremendous progress women have made and will continue to make in sports.

It’s also time to consider the long road ahead to equality, and what each of us can do to make that road a little bit shorter.

Evan McCullers is a sports reporter and columnist for the Daily Inter Lake. He can be contacted by phone at (406) 758-4463 or by email at emccullers@dailyinterlake.com.

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