Understudied Populations

50 Years of Title IX: We’re Not Done Yet

This report is grounded in the rich history of Title IX and takes a multi-dimensional look at its impact. The report is based on a rigorous literature review and original research using publicly available data sets. The focus is primarily on the enforcement of Title IX in athletics and the three major areas that should be reviewed in ongoing and regular Title IX audits: athletic participation opportunities, allocation of athletic scholarship funding, and allocation of resources in operational areas. The report examines Title IX through the lens of intersectionality, explores emerging issues, and looks ahead to what is needed to accelerate the pace of change for the next 50 years.

50 Years of Title IX: We’re Not Done Yet Executive Summary

Title IX Fast Facts

50 Years of Title IX: We're Not Done Yet

Her Life Depends On It III

Her Life Depends On It III is the Women’s Sports Foundation’s comprehensive report that reviews existing and emerging research on the links between participation in sport and physical activity and the health and wellbeing of American girls and women. As with the previous editions in 2004 and 2009, this study also confirms that physical activity and sport provides the critical foundation, in no small part, that allows girls and women to lead healthy, strong, and fulfilled lives. Ten years since its first publication, the updated Her Life Depends On It provides an even more comprehensive review of the ever-expanding body of research that demonstrates how important it is for girls and women to participate in sport and physical activity. The report’s contents reflect the review of 1,500 studies, nearly 400 covered since the previous edition.

Read the Her Life Depends On It III Executive Summary here.
Read the Her Life Depends On It III Official Press Release here.


To assist readers who have specific interests, the WSF has created a series of Research Briefs from Her Life Depends On It III on the following topics:

Academic Progress and Sports and Physical Activity
Collegiate Coaching and Athletic Administration
Female Athletes and Knee Injuries
Female Athlete Triad
Girls and Women of Color in Sports and Physical Activity
Health Factors Impacted by Sports and Physical Activity
Women in Sports Leadership

Her Life Depends On It III Full Report (PDF 1540k)

Sexual Orientation Discrimination in Sport

On June 24, 2009, Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank submitted a bill to the United States House of Representatives that, if passed by both houses of Congress and signed by President Obama, would prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), as the bill is known, would ensure fair employment practices by making it illegal to fire, refuse to hire, or fail to promote an employee based on real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Religious organizations, the military and businesses with a small number of employees would be exempt from the law. The first version of this “gay rights” bill was introduced in 1974 by Representatives Bella Abzug and Ed Koch from New York. Thirty-five years later, prospects for passage of this basic civil rights protection into federal law are much better, and reflect changing societal perspectives on lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgender rights.

Currently twenty states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. Twelve of these states also prohibit discrimination based on gender identity/expression. In addition, many cities and towns across the US have similar laws. If it became law, ENDA would be the first federal law extending non-discrimination protection based on sexual orientation.

A version of ENDA that did not include gender identity/expression was introduced in 2007, but was not acted on. ENDA supporters in the legislature believed that they could not pass the bill with gender identity included. The decision to drop protections for gender identity discrimination prompted several gay rights organizations and leaders to withdraw their support of ENDA if it did not include protections on the basis of gender identity and expression.

So, what does ENDA have to do with sports? It is a sad and shameful truth that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (or those perceived to be) are still discriminated against in sports. Prospective women coaches are still not hired because they are (or are perceived to be) lesbian or bisexual. Women coaches thought to be lesbian or bisexual are harassed, stereotyped, fired or targeted for negative recruiting by rival coaches.

Male coaches who are gay or perceived to be gay would also be protected by ENDA. Though men’s sports has traditionally been perceived to be a hostile environment for gay men, more gay coaches, administrators, athletic trainers and other staff are choosing to identify themselves. Negative recruiting against male coaches based on sexual orientation is an increasing problem as gay men become more visible in sport. Until women’s and men’s sports eliminate homophobia, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender athletic employees need legal protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, not just in twenty states, but in all fifty states. That is what a federal non-discrimination law would ensure.

Challenging sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination is possible, even without a federal law prohibiting discrimination. (The Women’s Sports Foundation’s It Takes A Team initiative includes information on laws and legal resources to combat discrimination.) However, a federal law would extend discrimination protection to all states and would provide employees targeted by gender and sexual orientation discrimination with a powerful additional legal tool equivalent to other federal laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex, race, religion, national origin and disability.

Passage of ENDA would provide federal protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression for employees in athletics: athletic administrators, coaches, athletic trainers and all others who work in athletics.

Supporters of equality in sport for women have a stake in supporting legislation that protects athletic employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity as well. As long as any woman coach, administrator or other athletic staff member is subject to discrimination based on real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, all women are at risk being targeted by this kind of unfair treatment.

The Women’s Sports Foundation supports legislation that provides protection from discrimination based on real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. Women’s and men’s sport will benefit from ensuring that all participants are able to coach and compete in a climate where their achievements are based on their competence and character, not on their sex, sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force are two of several organizations working to secure passage of ENDA.

Playing in the Closet

Like many girls in the United States, Andrea Zimbardi went to college to not only gain an education, but also to play the sport she loved. To be a student-athlete is a full-time job. You run from practice to class to the library, and occasionally you get to eat . . . usually with the team. Your team becomes your new family, players from different backgrounds bonded together by a mutual love for the game. So what is it that could have torn Zimbardi apart from the sport she loved and her softball family?

Zimbardi was a few throws away from setting a school record in March 2003 when her coach Karen Johns cut her from the softball team. She stood up to a coach who used fear as a tool to control her players: homophobia. Homophobia in collegiate sports is an ongoing issue that affects every level of athletics from coaches, players, parents and fans. Not only is it something that has tainted the spirit of what sports stand for, but also it is a reflection of how society views women who have dared to step out of their pre-cut gender roles. If women plan on continuing to succeed in the sports world, then all athletes and coaches must work at respecting one another, no matter what diverse background their teammates or players might represent.

The Gender Issue

“You throw like a girl” is a typical insult that has echoes across time as well as playgrounds across the country. Men and boys have always used that phrase to cut each other down on the field and in the locker room. Sports exist as a sacred pastime where boys become men, and men become indestructible heroes. For a woman to step onto the same field where seeds of masculinity are planted is to trample the future of male-dominated leaders. If a woman can throw, hit and catch as well as a boy of her own age, then what’s stopping her from being his equal in the business world? The submissive role that women have traditionally been forced into is challenged by a successful female athlete, and as a result, also bends gender roles. To combat this, often the most common way to attack a female athlete is to challenge her femininity and question her sexuality. If a woman’s sexual preference is in question, then it becomes a way to control her.

Homo-negativity on the Field

One of the most prominent places that homophobia has been used to control women is in collegiate athletic departments. Over the years, the male college recruiting process has been tainted with scandals involving big athletes receiving cars, money and women to go to certain schools. However, the process for women has been a little different. Opposed to an incentive like a new car, many times parents and athletes are fed lies and false accusations to alter the impression of a rival school. Schools and coaches are labeled as producing “lesbians” in an effort to sway parents’ and players’ decisions. But the problem doesn’t just stop at recruiting. Once at a school athletes are susceptible to being ostracized by other players if they do come out and have been thrown off teams or unfairly benched due to their sexuality. “If you’re an athlete on a team, the coach has all the cards and power in terms of determining what your future is; and if that coach is homophobic, then you’re going to stay deep in the closet,” explained Pat Griffin, author of Strong Women, Deep Closets.

Griffin was both an athlete and a coach who was forced to stay silent about her sexuality, and in her book, she describes her story, as well as several other athletes’ stories about the unnecessary pressure placed on women by the homophobic sports world. Her experiences as a coach in the closet were equally as horrifying as those she had as a player. Many times in fear of losing her job, Griffin was forced to alter her life to cater to what college administrators wanted her to be. Her story is not unique though, in the sense that there are women working in athletic departments across the United States who are forced into putting up a facade everyday. In Strong Women, Deep Closets, one Division II basketball coach talks about her athletic director going to the extreme of following her home to see if she went to her house or her girlfriend’s after work when he suspected her being gay.

Two-fold Fix

The harassment and abuse of players and coaches based on their sexuality is an unnecessary college experience that needs to stop. Two ways to remedy the problem are through education and the law. “Education and legal remedy go hand-in-hand in any social change movement,” said Griffin. “The law has played a huge role here, and that’s where organizations like the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), who look for gay, lesbian or bisexual people in athletics who have been discriminated against, take their case and provide legal council. That is a great avenue for change.”

That change has recently been demonstrated at the University of Florida. Zimbardi now will be known not only for her great arm, but also for her courage to make things a little easier for herself and other players in the (LGBT community. Zimbardi brought to the athletic administration’s attention that Johns created an uncomfortable environment for those who didn’t share her Christian beliefs and claimed that Johns had outed coaches and players. All coaches, athletic directors and staff are now required to attend diversity training in response to a settlement for the groundbreaking case, and the university’s non-discrimination policy now also includes sexual orientation. Johns was also recently fired. This case is important because it demonstrates how the law can correct injustices such as being discriminated against based on sexual orientation and how education can prevent it from happening to a player or coach later on.

Be Part of the Education

Education is the most important key to stopping anti-gay harassment in sports. The law is a reaction to the injustice inflicted, but educational programs help ensure that those injustices never happen in the first place. Some ways to get your own team on the road to accepting players who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender are:

  • Don’t use anti-gay slurs: Saying negative comments or slurs about someone’s sexuality is just as bad as insulting a player about his or her race or religion. Insults don’t belong in sports, period.
  • Speak out against what makes you uncomfortable: The most important agent in educating people about LGBT issues is to talk. If people are being harassed on your team, speak out against it. If you stay silent, then you’re just adding to the problem.
  • Don’t judge others based on stereotypes: Don’t judge people’s sexuality based on how much pink they wear or how short their hair is. Stereotypes are a way for people to classify others without really getting to know who they are. They create a wall between you and your coach or teammate. Respect everyone’s differences.
  • Listen to how others feel: Talking is important, but listening is just as imperative. Take time to listen to what your teammates or coaches. It will make their lives easier to know they have people supporting them.

Go Out and Play – Understudied Populations

Go Out and Play: Youth Sports in America is a comprehensive research report that covers a range of topics including sports access for children with disabilities. Significant numbers of children from immigrant families are involved with sports and exercise. Their interest is palpable, but for reasons we do not understand, girls lag behind boys in participation.

Go Out and Play - Understudied Populations

Advocates Back Athletes with Disabilities

Good morning. I am Aimee Mullins, a world record holder and Paralympian in track and field and the president of the Women’s Sports Foundation, a nonprofit national educational organization founded in 1974 by Billie Jean King to advance the lives of girls and women through sports and physical activity. Under my leadership, the Foundation has undertaken as one of its core public policy initiatives to ensure that all girls, including girls with disabilities, have the opportunities to derive the important benefits from sports and physical activity participation.

Ensuring that all students have opportunities for sports and physical activity is especially critical now when we are facing an obesity epidemic among our youth.

  • One in every six children is obese (BMI 30+); one in three is overweight (BMI 25+)
  • $67.6 billion is spent annually nationwide on health care treatment and research, yet only $17 million is spent each year on prevention. (almost 4,000% more!)
  • 300,000 people in the United States die each year from complications related to obesity
  • Obesity is the number-one preventable cause of death
  • Individuals with disabilities are at an even greater risk of being physically inactive and the subsequent health risks associated with obesity and sedentary behavior.
  • 50% of people with disabilities do not engage in any physical activity,
  • Only 23% of people with disabilities are active for at least 30 minutes three or more times per week

We know that sports and physical activity is an effective intervention to addressing the obesity epidemic. Especially among individuals with disabilities, the benefits reaped from physical activity are numerous.

Specifically, sports and physical activity participation helps reduce the health care costs spent on treating both direct and indirect costs associated with obesity. Controlling weight and improved circulation prevents health problems, such as reducing the risk of heart disease, breast cancer and debilitating stress-related illnesses such as depression.

Moreover, we know that individuals with disabilities who participate in sports are more confident and have higher self-esteem and better body images than individuals who do not. Furthermore, individuals with disabilities that participate in sports have higher rates of academic success, are more likely to graduate from high school, are more likely to matriculate in college, and experience greater career success and more options.

Despite all these benefits, athletic opportunities for girls and women with disabilities continue to be limited. At present, neither the National Federation of State High School Athletic Associations nor the NCAA officially sanctions any interscholastic or intercollegiate program, event or competition for individuals with disabilities.

When I competed in track and field at Georgetown University, I was the first athlete with a disability to compete against athletes without disabilities as part of an NCAA Division I track team. I was fortunate to compete at a school like Georgetown that embraced my participation on the track team.

However, this type of inclusion is more of the exception than the norm. Not only do most schools not provide teams for individuals with disabilities, but frequently, schools are not willing to allow athletes with disabilities to participate inclusively on teams with athletes without disabilities.

One example of this type of exclusion occurred for Tatyana McFadden, a wheelchair racer in Howard County, Md., who was denied access to compete with her high school teammates on the track at the same time. In Tatyana’s case, it took a lawsuit against the school in order for her to be allowed to race on the track at the same time as the other student athletes.

To prevent situations like Tatyana’s from happening again, the Women’s Sports Foundation joined forces with the Maryland Disability Law Center and passed the Fitness and Athletic Equity for Students with Disabilities Act that signed into law in Maryland in May of this year. This Act is a landmark piece of legislation that, for the first time, specifies the actions school systems must take to include students with disabilities in physical education and athletic programs.

The bill requires that schools ensure that students with disabilities have equal opportunities to participate in physical education and athletic programs, develop policies and procedures to promote and protect the inclusion of students with disabilities, and provide annual reporting to the Maryland State Department of Education detailing their compliance with these requirements.

However, while we have won an important match in Maryland, the set is not yet complete. The lack of opportunities for students with disabilities in school physical activity programs is not isolated to Maryland and thus legislation like the Fitness and Athletic Equity for Students with Disabilities Act is needed nationally.

The Foundation is committed to working to ensure that all of our educational institutions institutionalize the support and infrastructure in their sport and physical activity programs to include students with disabilities.

Sport is too potent a force in society and has too much of an impact on an individual’s health, confidence and self-esteem for us not to do everything we can to ensure that sports girls and boys with disabilities are treated as well as sports girls and boys without disabilities.