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.
Title IX has allowed women to extend and nurture their sporting careers in college, yielding U.S. women a bumper crop of gold medals in world championships and Olympics. Success on the world stage and within educational institutions paved the way for the first women's professional basketball league and more professional opportunities in the world of sport.
In the 38 years since the passage of Title IX, millions of girls and women have benefited. Currently half of the nation's medical schools, law schools, along with many business schools, report that women make up at least 50 percent of enrollment.
Since the law was enacted in 1972, U.S. girls' participation in high school sports has increased by more than 10-fold. In college, the rise is more than five-fold.
The law has rippled out and reached girls and women around the world.
Title IX sports scholarships have attracted foreign-born women to U.S. colleges. After graduating, many have gone home eager to provide more opportunities for girls and women, stimulating a cycle of change. In 1960, less than one-third of Olympic events were open to women. In the 2012 London Olympic Games all sports will welcome women, including boxing.
During most of his 40 years in Congress Stevens was the "go-to guy" when it came to numerous sports and fitness-related issues.
Since he took office the United States has hosted four Olympic Games: the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid; the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles; the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta; and the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.
In 1980, when President Carter called for an Olympic boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games, Stevens stood up on the Senate floor, against the wishes of a majority of his colleagues, and spoke out. After that he made sure anti-boycott language was included in the Soviet -United States peace accords.
I first met the senator when we served together on President Ford's Commission on Olympic and Amateur Sports. The commission was convened shortly after the United States Olympic Committee failed to provide, protect and adequately support U.S. Olympic athletes during the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, where 11 Israeli athletes and coaches and one West German police officer were killed by a terrorist attack.
Our commission was charged with researching and recommending legislation proposing an entirely new sports governance structure in the United States. Stevens dedicated himself to the task.
The Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, passed in 1978, required each Olympic sport federation as well as the U.S. Olympic committee to provide athletes with 20 percent representation on their governing boards. Athletes gained the right of due process and the option of mandatory arbitration to settle disputes.
Stevens' family has requested that he be remembered most for helping Alaska earn statehood in 1953.
All athletes, and particularly women in sports, have to add an encore. He was simply our guardian angel.
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Donna de Varona is an Emmy award-winning broadcaster, a double Olympic gold medalist and the recipient of the Olympic order. She was the first president and chairman of the Women's Sports Foundation. She is a member of the board of directors of the International Special Olympics and a member of the International Olympic Committee Women and Sport Commission. She is currently president of DAMAR Productions.
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