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If You Are A Girl And Would Like To Play Sports, It Helps To Be White

CREDIT: (AP PHOTO/NAM Y. HUH)
CREDIT: (AP PHOTO/NAM Y. HUH)

More than 40 years after the passage of Title IX mandated equal gender access to scholastic sports, minority girls still face a striking disparity in their available athletic opportunities across the country, a new study of high school sports in 13 states found.

For all its successes, Title IX has not yet achieved gender parity in sports. But for girls of color, the problem is even worse. According to the study from the National Women’s Law Center and the Poverty & Race Research Action Council, girls at heavily minority schools have just 67 percent of the number of athletic opportunities — defined as spots on teams — as their male counterparts. Such schools, in which student bodies are at least 90 percent non-white, are also more than twice as likely to have large disparity gaps — at least a 10 percentage point difference — than heavily white schools.

Because they have fewer resources to fund academic and athletic activities, predominantly minority schools offer fewer overall athletic opportunities than mostly white schools, meaning the gaps between minority girls and other groups is even larger. Girls who attend mostly minority schools, the report found, have just 39 percent of the opportunities to play sports as girls at heavily white schools and just 32 percent of those opportunities as boys at such schools.

As a result, girls of color are “doubly disadvantaged” when it comes to the opportunity to play sports, NWLC Senior Counsel and Director of Equal Opportunities in Athletics Neena Chaudry said in a phone interview.

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Previous studies have shown wide participation gaps between white girls and girls of color at the high school level. The Department of Education in 2007 found that 51 percent of white female high school sophomores participated in sports, compared to just 40 percent of African-Americans, 34 percent of Asian/Pacific Islanders, and 32 percent of Hispanics in the same grade.

The disparity in funding for extracurricular activities at heavily minority schools, and thus the substantial gap in opportunities afforded to girls of color, “reveals another hidden cost of segregation that we have tolerated for far too long,” Phillip Tegeler, the executive director of PRRAC, said in a release announcing the findings.

Those costs could be substantial to the girls who are missing out.

Numerous studies into the effects of Title IX and the increase in athletic opportunities it provided girls and women have shown positive long-term benefits in educational attainment and health and economic outcomes of girls who play sports at the high school level. One study, for instance, found that girls who played scholastic sports later earn annual wages that are 7 percent higher than those who did not, and that those economic benefits last throughout professional careers. Others have shown numerous positive health benefits, particularly in lower rates of obesity and long-term cardiovascular problems.

Women of color, particularly African-Americans and Hispanics, fare worse than white women in many of those categories, so fewer athletic opportunities is also preventing many of these girls from realizing the long-term benefits of participation in sports.

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“That’s all the more reason we have to make sure they’re getting equal opportunities to get these benefits,” Chaudry said. “A lot of times people think of athletics as just an extracurricular activity. But we know, from personal experiences and research, that they’re so much more than that.”

The problems are made worse, Chaudry said, by the fact that communities surrounding heavily minority schools often lack public spaces built for sports or youth sports leagues, making it “that much more important that schools live up to their obligations to provide equal sports opportunities.”

The report, which examined schools in 13 states that have at least 20 of both heavily minority and heavily white schools, makes dozens of recommendations for how policymakers at the local, state, and federal level should address the gaps. It calls for better data collection methods and transparency about sports participation, as well as greater enforcement of federal and state laws that mandate equal funding of academic and extracurricular school activities and equal access to sports. States should play a large role in prioritizing equal funding of both academics and athletics, Chaudry said.

“That sort of is the root of a lot of this problem, the lack of resources we’re seeing in predominantly minority schools,” she said. “So I think states have a big role here to step back and look at how they are distributing their resources generally on the basis of race, to make sure they’re not having a discriminatory effect on the basis of race.”

“And then,” she added, “to really focus in on girls of color, who are at the bottom here.”