Essay: Executive producer Robin Roberts
When I was in the eighth grade in Pass Christian, Miss., our basketball uniforms were basically leotards with our numbers taped on our backs. But the next year, because of a law that nobody had told us about, we had real uniforms. Thank you, Title IX.
I can say without hesitation that I am where I am today because of a 37-word section of an education bill passed 40 years ago:
"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 educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."
Those words, dry as they might seem, gave me the opportunity to play basketball at Southeastern Louisiana University, graduate with a degree in communications and become a television reporter and broadcaster. Title IX not only gave American women a sense of self-esteem, but it also gave us a sense of possibility for what we could do in this world. Had I chosen to be a doctor, or lawyer, or professional bowler -- I was a state champ when I was 12, you know -- I would be thanking that law just as deeply.
When Title IX comes up in the news, or even just in conversation, I sometimes recall one of my favorite movies, "A League of Their Own." Released in 1992, exactly 20 years after the enactment of Title IX, it told the story of the All-American Girls Baseball League that was popular during and after World War II. The film, directed by Penny Marshall, was hugely entertaining, with Geena Davis, Madonna and Rosie O'Donnell. And Tom Hanks pleading, "There's no crying in baseball." But it was just as illuminating because it demonstrated to audiences how important and liberating sports are to women.
That's why I jumped at the chance to be an executive producer on ESPN and espnW's Nine for IX project -- nine films by women about women athletes who came along after the passage of the law. To be able to marry the power of filmmaking with the glory unleashed by Title IX was a prospect every bit as enticing as my first real uniform. As an added bonus, I would get to work with some of my former colleagues at ESPN, most especially the man I consider my mentor, John A. Walsh.
The nine subjects we've chosen for this series run the gamut of sports, from tennis to free-diving to track. We'll take you inside an NFL locker room and the East German Stasi. We'll show you examples of tremendous courage and despicable cowardice. While I'm proud of all of these of films, I take special satisfaction in "Pat XO," our portrait of my old friend, former Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt, whose grace in dealing with health issues has been an inspiration for me.
If there was one watershed moment for Title IX, it might be the Women's World Cup in the summer of 1999. I remember covering the championship game at the Rose Bowl -- walking through the parking lot and marveling at all the tailgates with fathers and their daughters, looking up in the stands and seeing young guys with "M-I-A-H-A-M-M" painted on their chests -- and discovering that the world had changed. At halftime, I interviewed President Bill Clinton and thought to myself, "A little girl is watching today who is going to be President of the United States."
I won't pretend that Nine for IX will have that kind of impact on future generations. But I do hope one or two or several of these films will show viewers the essence and strength of equality, the lasting effect of Title IX. I've come a long way since wearing that leotard in Pass Christian, and so have we.
Join the conversation and tweet your thoughts about the film series to #NineforIX.