Equal Access, Not Equal Attitude

Eve Kantaros ’21 recently conducted an all-school survey as a component of her winter co-curricular research project on common sports related injuries.

Title IX, implemented in 1972, forbids educational systems from discriminating on the basis of sex. Since its implementation, according to Women’s Sports Foundation, the percentage of women playing college sports has increased by 545%, and the percentage of women playing high school sports has increased by 990%. Unfortunately, equal access to sports did not result in equal attitudes toward female athletes. Different forms of discrimination still exist toward female athletes amongst peers, coaches, parents, trainers, doctors, and physical therapists. The biases are often so subtle that both the offender and the athlete may not even recognize them. These discriminatory attitudes impact the lessons of teamwork, grit, and leadership young girls and women should be learning from sports and can carry with them throughout their lives.  

There is an abundance of evidence that shows women suffer from more sports-related injuries than men, particularly of the knee, in part due to their biomechanics. In a recent Hotchkiss survey, 72% of 111 female athletes reported suffering from a sports-related injury that took them out of sports for at least a month. Of this injured female population, 41% of the female athletes had been told at least once to stop playing their respective sport. This drastically contrasted with the only 19% of male athlete responders who had been told to quit their sport. This continued bias toward female athletes and their sports-related injuries is not only disregarding the intent of Title IX but also preventing women from fully exercising their right to play sports. Deprivation of the opportunity to play sports in turn prevents women from having equal chances to learn leadership skills, communication skills, teamwork skills, and feelings of self-empowerment and accomplishment. This bias prevents women from enjoying the rewards gained from athletics and life lessons free of discrimination. If almost half the female athletes who face a setback are told to quit, what kind of message does this send to women when they encounter impediments for the rest of their lives? 

It is time to take a new look at Title IX and to end the remaining discrimination that follows women on and off the field. It is well documented that women suffer from more knee and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears than do men. In fact, some studies estimate women suffer up to five times the rate of ACL injuries than men. In the school survey of 190 people, 50% of the female athletes who suffered an injury suffered from a knee injury, compared to 26% of male athletes. By ignoring this reality, and not putting into place injury prevention programs that have been proven to reduce ACL tears, we are neglecting to keep our female athletes as safe as our male athletes. This is discrimination, too. Credible, well-known sites such as US Lacrosse and the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine have released easy 20-minute injury prevention warm-ups and actively encouraged coaches to implement these warm-ups into daily practices. Yet, with all this knowledge available, still, 60% of female respondents said they were never exposed to these prevention exercises, compared to 37% of the male responders. Therefore, men who already have a lower rate of an ACL injury are more likely to be trained to prevent it than women who are more at risk.  

Abby Wambach, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, FIFA gold medalist, and advocate for gender equality across all industries, particularly in professional sports, said, “it is time for women to stop being grateful for simply having a seat at the table.” Female athletes need to be treated and respected equally to their male counterparts. If we truly want to end discrimination on the bases of sex, we need to address these more subtle forms of discrimination in the attitude and behavior toward females. This starts with injury prevention being implemented in practices. We need to show that we care about our female athletes’ development as much as our male athletes by working hard to prevent their known injuries and by following through with equal encouragement to get them back on the field. Only through this, will the original intent of equal access be fulfilled, allowing women to grow up and bring the skills learned on the field to the boardroom. The Title IX law and its intended equality is more than just being grateful for the right to play the game. It demands equal attitudes and equal treatment both on and off the field.