Editor’s note: Ahead of the 50th anniversary of Title IX, a new podcast from NBC News and NBC Sports called “In Their Court” examines the impact of this legislation through the lens of women’s basketball. The first two episodes are available to download now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts. New episodes in the five-part series will be released each Monday.
In July 1972, armed with newly enacted Title IX legislation and boxes of bright yellow buttons with clever complementing slogans, a young Margaret Dunkle set about her new role in Washington, D.C., as a researcher with Association of American College’s Project on the Status and Education of Women.
Her task? Explore just how well schools, colleges and universities matched up under the new statutory requirement, which for the first time under federal civil rights law, prohibited sex-based discrimination in any school or education program that receives funding from the federal government.
Those 37 words, passed as part of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, read: “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 education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
“We had these buttons, and we were wearing them up and down the halls of Capitol Hill,” remembers Dunkle, speaking on a new podcast from NBC News and NBC Sports called “In Their Court,” which explores Title IX through the rich history of women’s basketball 50 years after the legislation was passed into law. “We were passing them out like gumdrops, and kind of came up with these slogans. They’re kind of iconic and they’re almost 50 years old.”
Among the slogans were “Uppity Women Unite,” “God Bless You, Title IX” and “Give Women a Sporting Chance.”
It was the last one that propelled the research rabbit hole that Dunkle dove into, dissecting the inequities within sports at these educational institutions in hopes of figuring out how to fix it. Her 1974 report documenting discrimination against women athletes became the blueprint for Title IX regulations on athletics.
“It was bake sales to travel and the guys got the planes,” said Dunkle, recounting examples of their findings. “It was the female coach is a volunteer and the male coach is paid by the (physical education) department. It was, ‘We can only practice at six o’clock in the morning and eight o’clock at night because the guys use the field.’ And it was the same, campus to campus to campus. It was everywhere. Sex discrimination in sports, sex discrimination in schools and colleges was the norm.”
The same year that Dunkle’s groundbreaking report was released, a 19-year-old Mickie DeMoss took it upon herself to approach then-president of Louisiana Tech University, Dr. F. Jay Taylor, suggesting the creation of a women’s basketball team. That team’s journey to fruition, led by a 28-year-old Sonja Hogg, a physical education teacher, moves into the spotlight in the first episode of “In Her Court.”
“You’re a little girl and you dream of these moments where, you know, I’d be out in the driveway playing and I’d hit the winning bucket or I would do make up these scenarios in my head,” says DeMoss. “And then when I’m there, and I’m at Louisiana Tech, and I’m representing a university across my chest on jersey, I’m like, ‘Wow, you know, this is big time.’”
But despite success on the court and Hogg’s inspiring vision for the Lady Techsters’ program, forces were conspiring against the Louisiana Tech women’s basketball team, which finds itself caught in a battle between the women who want to run American sport and the men who want to take that away from them. The five-part podcast dives deeper into this complicated legacy as well as addresses the persistent issues of inequity in the world of college sports.
“Title IX happened because a few people got smart, cared a lot and stuck with it,” said Dunkle. “And progress on Title IX will happen for those same reasons.”
MORE TITLE IX ANNIVERSARY COVERAGE: Fifty years after Title IX, girls and women in sport still have fewer opportunities
On Her Turf editor Alex Azzi contributed to this report.