By Donna deVarona
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
When Sen. Ted Stevens died in a plane crash last week female athletes lost a dedicated champion of Title IX, says Donna deVarona, who served with the late senator on a presidential commission that reformed rules for the U.S. Olympics.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Published remembrances of my friend and sometime colleague Sen. Ted Stevens, who perished last week in a tragic plane crash in Alaska, haven't said much about his dedicated support of legislation that changed so much for women and girls in this nation.
There is much to tell.
In 1972 Stevens, a Republican, was one of the sponsors of Title IX of the Equal Education Amendments Act, which says, "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."
The law applies to both educational and athletic opportunities, but its application to sports has over the years stirred the most controversy. Stevens consistently stood up for the rights of girls and women in many a raging debate.
At its inception, opponents of the law argued that girls and women were not interested in elite sports participation and that opening up new opportunities would not only undermine men's sports but bankrupt school sports budgets nationwide.
It was a fierce and well-funded battle cry against equality that has not stopped yet, with boys and men continuing to receive over $100 million more in college sports scholarships along with various types of preferential treatment.
But Stevens consistently fought for Title IX.
The biggest challenge came in 1984 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Title IX applied only to programs that directly received federal funds, which left women's sports opportunities unprotected. Stevens responded by co-sponsoring a National Girls and Women and Sports day. Female gold medalists at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games toured Capitol Hill to remind legislators that their accomplishments were a direct result of the opportunities paved for them by Title IX.
In 1988, after intense lobbying on Capitol Hill, Stevens helped pass the Civil Rights Restoration Act, which corrected the Supreme Court ruling by extending Title IX to all programs run by a school that receives any federal aid.
In 2003, the Bush administration sought to weaken Title IX by convening the Opportunity in Athletics Commission to recommend changes to the application of the law.
Before the Bush commission released its report Stevens hosted a lunch and invited me to join him in the Senate dining room to welcome the winner of the annual Women's Sports Foundation award.
Nawal el Moutawakel, a Title IX scholarship recipient at Iowa State who became the first African-Muslim woman to win an Olympic gold medal during the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, was also there.
The U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige under President Bush happened to be dining at another table. If changes were to be made to Title IX, Paige would have to implement them. As desert was being served, Stevens reached under the table and produced one of his favorite baseball caps, with Title IX written on the front.
He then invited us to meet Paige. After the introductions Stevens asked Paige if he would like to take a picture with two great Olympic champions? Yes, he would, said Paige. We then plopped the baseball cap on Paige's head.
Soon after our meeting, Paige decided to leave Title IX rules alone.
When President Bush was elected to a second term his administration did release a clarification to Title IX saying that schools could allocate money to male and female sports teams based on how students responded to e-mail surveys, rather than a standard of parity. The Obama administration rescinded it this year.
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