On June 23rd, 1972, history was made as Congress passed Title IX to the Education Amendments and signed into law by then-president Richard Nixon. Friday will officially mark 45 years since Title IX was enacted into law.
Title IX officially says "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” and required that all schools and organizations that receive federal funds abide by it in order to continue to receive the funding.
Colleges and schools around the country, however, did not immediately completely comply.
The NCAA, which was founded in 1906 as a governing body for collegiate athletics, fielded no women's championship tournaments and had 0 scholarships available for female athletes when then legislation was passed. The NCAA and other organizations, however, would not have to comply until 1978 and the NCAA wouldn't offer any women's championships until 1982.
But the fight didn't end there because y ou can't change the culture of society overnight and a piece of paper can't do it either, even if it's signed into law by the President of the United States and female athletes across the country found that out soon after.
Hockey is considered a non-traditional women's sport, and it was a sport that was and is slow to change its ways.
The International Ice Hockey Federation did not host a Women's World Championship tournament until 1990.
18 years after Title IX.
The Olympic Committee didn't allow women's hockey as an Olympic Sport until 1998.
26 years after Title IX.
Manon Rheaume grew up in Quebec, Canada, she was born a few months prior to Title IX becoming law in the United States. She lived in a small town where her dad coached the local youth hockey team that her two older brothers played on. Her father would coach Manon's two older brothers and their youth hockey team. Manon said in her biography that she constantly played with her brothers, letting them shoot at her in the net in the basement and out in their ice rink in the backyard. It was natural, she was the baby of the family and her two brothers wanted a live object in front of the net while they shot. As fate would have it, her father's team would be in need of a goaltender when they first established themselves as a team that played in games and tournaments. Manon relentlessly begged her father to allow her to play on the boys' team.
When Manon entered the rink for her first game as a goaltender and a member of the all-boys team, her parents had her wear her goalie mask so the people in the stands wouldn't know that she was a girl. She said in her biography that "I was definitely going against local custom in Quebec, where hockey is almost a religion: in this province, hockey is definitely a boys' sport. Girls play ringette."
"There's no way that little brat's going to steal my boy's place on the team. He's going to the National Hockey League!"
That was what Manon said was the most common phrase she heard during a tryout when other mothers realized that she was a girl. But for the majority of the time, she prevailed and became the first female to compete in the prestigious Quebec City Pee Wee Tournament.
She was treated so poorly that she even quit for a short period of time when she got older. But not before becoming the first woman to play in a Major Junior Hockey game for the Trois-Rivieres Draveurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League at the age of twenty.
Twenty years after Title IX was enacted.
And then, perhaps her biggest accomplishment, on September 23rd, 1992, Manon played a period between the pipes with the newly formed Tampa Bay Lightning in an exhibition game against the St. Louis Blues. On that day, she became the first woman to play professional hockey and play any kind of men's professional sport. And to this day, she is the only woman to play in the NHL.
This past March, the US Women's National Hockey Team threatened to boycott the Women's World Championships in Plymouth, Michigan if USA Hockey didn't treat offer them a living wage and the same benefits that they give the men's team such as better hotel accommodations and travel for a parent or guest to tournaments and insurance coverage for the women.
The two-year-old National Women's Hockey League is only able to pay their players a maximum of $26,000 a year to play professional hockey, a maximum that was cut in half this past season because of funding issues.
Nearly forty-five years after Title IX, women and girls are still fighting for equality, still fighting so they aren't denied the same benefits as the male athletes in their sport.
Not only are we the minority in our sport, most, if not all, sport news channels and blogs refuse to cover women's hockey because we aren't playing a sport that is popular and "cool" for girls to play.
Sue McDowell played hockey when girls didn't play hockey. Now, she has over twenty years of coaching experience and as an advocate for girl's and women's hockey.
"I'm chuckling because I still see a lot of examples where it's not really considered "the norm" for girl's to be playing today," she said when I asked her how it was to see the difference from then to now, "That being said, I think what I notice now is the overall education around girls' sports. It's more broadly understood today that athletic females can pick any sport or endeavor and excel in that field. At the time I played, it was fairly unusual to have parents/schools/friends give you support. So you were fine as long as you played a sport that the school offered (in my area, girl's sports were field hockey, basketball, softball and track) . It was if you went off that script that people didn't know what to say (in polite company) or were downright rude (in impolite company)."
And she's absolutely right.
"What I notice most is the broad latitude that girls have, today, to enjoy and explore what matters to them. So I see girls going into/out of the locker room in sweats, jeans, and dresses," she added, "They are hockey players who are also musicians, actors, scholars, fundraisers, party girls, sleepover giggle girls and more. When I played, if you were at the rink you tried to be "all hockey" and you really struggled if you had to show up in your dance outfit or your music/play attire or your party dress for grandma's birthday. That was particularly true when you were the only girl on a boy's team. It may still be true in that scenario ... I'm lucky in Ann Arbor (where she has coached and been a girls director, as well as start the program in the late 90's) to see girls both on boys teams and on girls teams."
But it isn't all sunshine and rainbows and progress according to McDowell.
"I wish I could bubble more enthusiastically. We *have* made strides. I no longer get shut down immediately when I request ice for girls' teams. And girls can walk into a sport shop or shop online and actually get girls equipment and sticks. Those are plusses. I'd like to see (within the next 45 years?) a better funding model so girls and boys can be supported in playing the sports they love. And I'd love to see more women coaching, reffing and being in the board rooms as rink owners, association presidents and decision makers with girls in mind, not just their son's past experience. "
And McDowell is right, while women's hockey is growing at a high rate and more and more girls are stepping onto the ice each year, women are still underrepresented in upper management in the NHL, on association boards, at the state level and even at the national level.
I recently went to the 2017 NHL Draft in Chicago, on the floor was a table full of upper-level management for each NHL team in the league, 31 teams and not one woman was sitting at a table. The only women there were public relations or worked in the media as on-camera reporters for their respective news stations in their cities.
And as for being represented and recognized in the news media?
The NWHL was founded in 2015 and is the first league to actually pay their players. And there was radio silence after the initial announcement of the league's formation.
This past season, the NWHL players took a 50% pay cut because of a lack of funds. And news sources that are supposedly advocates of women's sports like ESPNW said absolutely nothing.
It wasn't until the US Women's National Hockey Team went on strike for fair wages equal and benefits that they paid them any mind.
It's been forty-five years and we still don't have equality.
Until we are not looked at strangely when we tell people that we play hockey or lacrosse or any other non-traditional women's sport we will not have equality.
Until USA Hockey and the state level associations like Michigan Amateur Hockey Association are no longer more like a good old boys club, we will not have equality.
Until people no longer laugh at us when we have lofty goals of being a part of professional sports and upper level management, we will not have equality.
Until ESPNW stops publishing more stories about the non-athelete wives of professional athletes rather than women in the NWHL taking a 50% paycut, we will not have equality.
Until we don't have to threaten to boycott a World Championship or Olympic Games for our governing body to take us seriously, we will not have equality.
We may be able to play, but we sure aren't given the recognition we deserve from our peers and the newsmedia. And until we do, we will not have equality.
We shouldn't have to fight to be recognized by our own peers and those who claim to be advocates for women in sport because it's hard enough to be a woman playing what's still known as a "man's sport".
Until we don't have to fight anymore, we won't be equal, no matter what legislation has been passed.
So, how far have we actually come? The answer isn't simple, but the simple version is, we have made strides, girls are playing every sport imaginable, but the biggest stride that we will make is accepting women and girls playing more than just softball, basketball, volleyball or any other "women's sports". Only then will we have equality.