WASHINGTON (DC News Now) — Elena Delle Donne has accomplished quite a bit this season, despite a nagging back injury.
She became the 40th person in WNBA history to score 4,000 points in her career as her Washington Mystics beat the Atlanta Dream, 70-50, on May 24.
“I try to take it in every moment that I get to place this game,” Delle Donne said. “I know we don’t get to play it very long.”
The Mystics are part of a league that first took the court in 1996. It came about as a result of the growth of women’s college basketball. Of course, that’s due in large part to Title IX.
“I think Title IX has everything to do with the fact I’m playing professional basketball and even got to play college basketball,” said Delle Donne. “I think without Title IX, we wouldn’t even have women’s pro sports.”
June 23 marks the 50th anniversary of the federal law approved by Congress and then-President Richard Nixon. Title IX is designed to create equality among men and women in the classroom and in athletics.
Women currently comprise 44% of the more than 500,000 student athletes competing in the NCAA. That’s 220,000 females. Compare that to 1972, when you had just 30,000 women who participated.
“What we’ve seen over these first 50 years is an extraordinary transformation,” said Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education Catherine Lhamon.
College basketball is one example, as the NCAA only added a Women’s Basketball Tournament in 1982. Plus, women have various professional leagues.
“For me, the biggest challenge is every year to make sure that for every student we all see equality because that is what Congress said we must live,” Lhamon said.
But not everyone shares that optimism.
“I think Title IX is a promise unrealized,” said Nancy Hogshead-Makar, who won four medals at the 1984 Summer Olympics, including three gold medals. She created Champion Women to end discrimination against female college athletes.
“What’s really heartbreaking is looking at the numbers in aggregate. Whether it’s looking by state or by the geographic region where you are, women are missing millions of dollars in college scholarships they should have. But for being female,” said Hogshead-Makar.
She claims women are denied $1 billion yearly in college athletic scholarships that would cover 200,000 athletes. Plus, Champion Women estimates NCAA institutions would need to provide women an additional 198,000 sports opportunities to match what is offered to men.
“Are girls actually getting equality? The answer is no, they’re not,” said Hogshead-Makar.
Champion Women studied Title IX data for all NCAA schools and found that 96% fail to meet gender-equity requirements under the law. The organization estimates Howard University would need to create 412 new opportunities for female athletes to be Title IX compliant. At Georgetown University, the number is 213. Both schools did not respond to requests to comment on this story.
According to the NCAA, universities have three options to show they are complying with Title IX. First, provide numerical proof a school’s ratio of female participation is close to the ratio of female enrollment at the institution.
The second option is to demonstrate a history and ongoing pattern of adding opportunities for women and improving existing ones.
The final option is for the institution to show there are no other sports that could be offered in which there is enough interest by the girls at the school to be able to field a team.
“We know that people who participate in sports, girls and women who participate in sports, do better academically, they get more education, they are more likely to go into STEM careers,” said Hogshead-Makar.
Hogshead-Makar is among those working to level the playing field for female athletes.