Ensuring Equity

How does Title IX affect you and how can you ensure your department is compliant?

By Barbara Bickford

Barbara Bickford, JD, is an Assistant Professor in the Exercise and Sport Science Department at the University of North Carolina.

Training & Conditioning, 11.3, April 2001, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/tc/tc1103/equity.htm

In 1997, a group of parents filed a class action lawsuit against the Tulsa Public Schools claiming violations of Title IX. In addition to charges of a lack of opportunities for girls to participate in sports, their complaint included allegations that the school district did not provide equitable athletic training and sports medicine services to female athletes. The lawsuit, which was settled out of court, also argued that female athletes did not have equitable or meaningful access to strength and conditioning facilities and that coaches of female athletes were not properly educated regarding the benefits of strength training. Could this type of complaint be filed against your school?

Title IX was enacted as part of the Educational Amendments of 1972 to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It states, “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.” The regulations went into effect in 1975, and all schools receiving federal money were required to be in compliance by 1978. More than 25 years later, a significant number of schools—both colleges and high schools—are still struggling to achieve compliance.

Harry Lloyd, the former editor of the Title IX Compliance Bulletin for College Athletics, believes that the vast majority of collegiate athletic directors limit their Title IX efforts to achieving proportionality in terms of participation alone. However, Title IX requires that student-athletes of both genders be provided with equal services and opportunities in all areas as outlined in the “laundry list” of program services (see Table One at the end of this article). These include equal access to sports medicine, athletic training, and strength and conditioning services and facilities.

Sure, some eyebrows would be raised if at a given school girls participated in half the sports as boys do, were rarely allowed into the weight room, and hardly ever had an athletic trainer assigned to their games. But many times, violations of Title IX are not that clearcut. This article provides an overview of what Title IX means for sports medicine coverage and strength and conditioning resources. While most of the changes made in order to comply with Title IX will have to be made by your athletic director or other senior administrator, there are some important steps you can take if you feel there is an inequitable situation at your school.

Compliance Definitions
& Solutions
First, it’s important to know exactly what Title IX compliance means and what it doesn’t mean. The basic purpose of Title IX is to ensure equal access to educational opportunities and services—including athletics—regardless of gender. Although gender equity and Title IX are not the same thing, it can help to think of Title IX as a means of achieving gender equity. The NCAA Gender Equity Task Force defines gender equity this way: “An athletics program can be considered gender equitable when the participants in both the men’s and women’s sports programs would accept as fair and equitable the overall program of the other gender.”

This does not mean that every sport—and every athlete—must be provided exactly the same equipment, time with athletic trainers and strength and conditioning coaches, etc. Rather, everyone must be treated equally, and equally get what they—and their sports—require.

Personnel & Resources
In the past, many women’s athletic teams did not have access to sports medicine services because of cultural stereotypes—“they’re not real athletes” or “they don’t play hard enough to get hurt.” Some of that mentality still remains, but now some people manipulate statistics to back it up.

Currently, most athletic trainers assign coverage in a gender-blind manner to the sports that pose the greatest risk of serious injury. Generally, the most experienced and qualified athletic trainers cover the contact sports that have the highest incidence of injury, and athletic trainers with less experience and/or student athletic trainers provide coverage of other sports. Some sports with a low incidence of serious injury, such as golf or tennis, may have no athletic training coverage assigned at all.

If the real needs of all athletes are being met, this situation could meet Title IX requirements. Sometimes, however, sports such as football are given an overwhelming proportion of the available resources while sports such as women’s basketball and soccer, whose athletes have been shown to have a significant injury rate, are left to fend for themselves. Under Title IX, resources don’t need to be allocated exactly equally, but both genders must be given exactly the same treatment based on need.

Let’s look at the football example more closely. Because of the number of injuries and the seriousness of those injuries, the sport may warrant that sports medicine professionals (physicians and athletic trainers) be on-site for practices and games. In many programs, head athletic trainers often work directly with the football team and assign their brightest and best staff to the squad. In addition, sports medicine personnel outside of the school often volunteer their services to the football program simply because they like to attend games, they want to contribute to the program, or they want to gain exposure for their medical practices.

But even if sports medicine professionals volunteer to work with the football team, this situation is discriminatory because the level of care and attention is higher than for other sports. Using the NCAA gender model for equity, whereas the female athletes would probably be thrilled to be given the level of coverage that football receives, the football players would likely be very disappointed if they were forced to trade for the level of services available to the women’s teams.

Note that it’s not the actual numbers that must match between men’s and women’s sports, but the level of care. If the men are given optimal coverage and resources, then the women must be given optimal coverage and resources—although it may mean different specific numbers of people and resources.

Unfortunately, most schools can’t afford to provide all student-athletes with premier resources and access to personnel. To meet Title IX, though, they must all be provided with a similar level of care. So, if it’s not ideal for the women’s program then it can’t be ideal for the men’s program.

Another common violation of Title IX—differences in the education and experience of the staff—sometimes appears in strength and conditioning programs. In some cases, team—and even strength and conditioning—coaches of girls’ and women’s teams have less experience and less sports-related academic preparation than those of boys’ and men’s teams. When the people who are hired to coach girls’ teams are less qualified than those who coach boys’ teams, female athletes are shortchanged. This discrepancy can be addressed simply by providing educational manuals and hands-on clinics to educate coaches about strength and conditioning and making an effort to hire strength and conditioning experts with similar levels of expertise.

In addition to the equity that must exist between personnel and services provided for men’s and women’s sports, Title IX also covers facilities. In short, access to strength training and athletic training facilities must equitably meet the needs of all athletes. Again, the facilities can be lousy, as long as they’re lousy for everyone.

In some older facilities, the athletic training room is either within the men’s locker room or adjacent to it. When the athletic training room is in the men’s locker room, female athletes are denied access to the facilities. In these cases, taping and other routine sports medicine procedures have to be administered to the female athletes in the hallways or on the sidelines.

In this situation, clearly, discrimination exists, but how do you comply with Title IX? The basic principle is that, however it’s done, equality must be achieved. Thus, one solution is to renovate so that both male and female athletes have equal access to the existing training room.

Creating equivalent facilities within the women’s locker room is another option. But this may spawn other problems. Separate facilities may require additional personnel to operate them. Further, the experience and qualifications of the sports medicine professionals working with the female athletes need to be equivalent to the experience and qualifications of the men’s athletic trainers. Even if the facilities are physically equal, if those facilities are not equitably staffed, the program is violating Title IX.

Inequities may also be apparent in strength and conditioning equipment and facilities. One team may feel that it has ownership of the strength and conditioning equipment because its boosters paid for it. Under Title IX, however, it doesn’t matter where the funding for the equipment comes from. Equal access and opportunity to use available equipment must exist.

Further, if only one strength and conditioning facility is available, athletes of both genders must have access in an equitable way. Prime after-school or afternoon training periods cannot be reserved only for one sport or for one gender. If an inequality exists in this area, workout schedules should be shuffled or weight rooms can be added or modified so that girls’ and boys’ facilities are comparable and fully meet the needs of both genders.

Likewise, appropriate equipment must be available for athletes of all heights and weights, from generally smaller females to relatively larger males. If male and female athletes use separate facilities, the size and scope of the facilities must meet the needs of both genders equitably. If specialized equipment is purchased for one gender, specialized equipment must be available for both genders.

Even what a facility is referred to can have a discriminatory effect. When the smaller room is called the “girls’ weight room” and the larger facility the “boys’ weight room,” the inference is that the girls’ program is inferior to the boys’.

Note, however, that Title IX does not require schools to have identical equipment, or even to spend the same amount of money for equipment for male and female athletes. The equipment must be equitable and appropriate to the needs of each athlete’s sport, but it need not be the same. If, for example, the men’s baseball team works out in a state-of-the-art facility stocked with $3000 of the latest batting aids and cameras to record swing mechanics, it does not mean that the women’s swim team needs $3000 of new equipment. But if the men’s teams receive new, top-of-the-line equipment every year, the women’s teams should receive new, top-of-the-line equipment each year too.

Finding Equality
Having read what Title IX requires and how inequalities can be corrected, you may be saying, “I can’t make those things happen. My staff and I are already stretched about as far as we can go. I can’t simply hire new staff or build new facilities.” Perhaps not, but you can play a major role in correcting the situation.

To begin with, if there are inequalities within your athletic department, administrators may not be aware of them, or, more likely, they may not realize the inequalities that do exist are a problem. If some part of your program is in violation of Title IX, and you can’t directly correct it, bring it to the attention of someone who can.

Begin by documenting exactly what the discrepancies are. If, for example, as the head athletic trainer you see a discrepancy in the amount of time girls’ teams are allowed in the weight room and the amount of direction they receive, bring this up with the strength and conditioning coach, or bring it to the attention of your AD. If, as the head strength and conditioning coach, you have always given the majority of your time to the football team—to the complete exclusion of most girls’ teams—let your athletic director know that even though this is the norm, the two of you need to figure out how the department should go about changing this.

If the first person you speak with disregards your thoughts, continue up the chain of command until someone listens. If it can’t be resolved within your department, present your case to your Title IX officer. By law, every public school is required to have a Title IX officer whose mandate is to look into any allegations. He or she can often help resolve the problem.

If your case falls on deaf ears at all of these levels, the next step is to take it to the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in the Department of Education. When you file a complaint with the OCR, they are required to investigate it. You can expect them to have hearings within a year, and if they find a violation, they will ask the school to address it within a certain time frame (commonly, within a five-year plan).

The last step, when all others have been exhausted, is litigation. In order to file a lawsuit based on Title IX violations, the plaintiff must have standing, meaning that he or she must suffer the harm from the violations. An athletic trainer or strength and conditioning coach who recognizes discrimination in his or her program is not directly discriminated against under Title IX guidelines, and, therefore, would not be able to file a lawsuit. Some big gains have been made in the courts, however, by student-athletes and their parents.

In Tulsa, even though the lawsuits were settled out of court, they still made a significant impact. “The lawsuit has done more for both men’s and women’s sports in the Tulsa Public Schools than any prior action,” says Tammy Smith, the former Athletic Director and Strength and Conditioning Coordinator at Nathan Hale High School in Tulsa. “It brought the issue into the public eye, forced the community to acknowledge the inequities, and everything came up to speed.”

Hopefully, the threat of court action won’t be necessary to bring everyone into compliance with Title IX. It may take time, but with a few simple changes and a little tweaking, most athletic departments can easily ensure that male and female athletes are provided with equal sports medicine and strength and conditioning opportunities and resources.

For more information on “Title IX” and “gender equity,” you can find articles published in our sister publications, Athletic Management and Coaching Management, by entering these key words in the search field at www.AthleticSearch.com.

Table One. The “Laundry List” of Programs

According to Title IX of the Educational Amendments to the Civil Rights Act, services and facilities must be provided equally to men and women at schools that receive federal funds. Below is a list of the specific athletic programs that fall under this mandate.

Equipment and supplies
Scheduling of games and
practice times
Travel and per diem
Locker room, practice,
and competitive facilities
Medical and training facilities
and services
Housing and dining facilities
Support services
Recruitment of student-athletes

Sidebar: Student Athletic Trainers and Title IX

While much of the focus of Title IX has been on athletics, the original purpose of the legislation was to provide equity in all areas of education. And even though gains have been made in other areas, female student athletic trainers sometimes still face deliberate, but more often unintentional, discrimination on a regular basis.

Discrimination exists most often when coaches specify that they do not want female student athletic trainers assigned to their teams. A director of an undergraduate athletic training program (who asked to remain anonymous) explains that, in his experience, these coaches don’t want to work with female student athletic trainers because they might be a “distraction” for the male athletes on the team, and he chooses to honor their requests.

“It’s not worth it to fight with the coach,” he says. “Any female student athletic trainer put in that situation will have a bad experience anyway. Not only does she have to combat the stereotype that the only reason female student athletic trainers are there is to date the student-athletes, but the lack of respect for her as a professional-in-training creates a hostile environment.”

But by following the coach’s mandate, this director is in violation of Title IX. A solution would be to speak with the athletic director or someone else on campus about how to educate the coaches about sex discrimination and set up a new policy on student assignments.

More subtle types of discrimination also take place. One of the battles female student athletic trainers fight is the cultural bias that women who work in athletics aren’t as good as the men who do the same job. Sarah, a student athletic trainer in her fourth year, was assigned to work with a men’s soccer team at her university. A first-year male student athletic trainer was also assigned to the team. The male athletes would often wait for the male student athletic trainer, even when he would have to ask Sarah for direction in taping and other procedures.

These types of discrimination may be on their way out. By requiring that every student athletic trainer work a minimum number of hours with both contact and non-contact sports, the new NATA certification standards will assure that all student athletic trainers gain experiences with a wide variety of sports and injuries. Sex discrimination in athletic training may also disappear as a result of numbers—similar to the general enrollment trends in higher education, there are currently more female than male student athletic trainers. But head athletic trainers are in the best position to prevent this type of discrimination, by educating coaches on each student athletic trainer’s abilities, regardless of gender, and making sure that both male and female students are given the same duties and respect.