(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.
Intense Lobbying on Capitol Hill
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.
Millions of Women and Girls Benefited
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.
Standing Up Against Olympic Boycott
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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