ESPN takes a look at the battle women had to wage for equality in education in the United States and how that spilled over into athletics in the 50 for 50 documentary series, “37 Words.” The first two episodes dropped on Disney+ on Wednesday, June 22nd here in the US. The first two episodes look at what education and athletics were like for women before the introduction of Title IX, how Title IX was passed, and what happened for women, both good and bad, in the wake of Title IX. This docuseries was released as the United States marks 50 years since the passing of Title IX.
The first episode looks at all of the ways women were held back before Title IX was made into law. It focuses on several women, most notably tennis superstar Billie Jean King, and how women were basically treated as second class citizens. They were allowed to compete in athletics if there was something available, but there was no requirement for equal athletic opportunities. While governments required all students to be educated during this timeframe, there was no requirement that women, or minorities, receive an equal education. It also looks at the first woman to hold an office in Congress and how she was able to slip in the 37 words that would become Title IX and guarantee equal educational opportunities for women.
The second episode looks at the immediate aftermath of the passing of Title IX. The law now guaranteed that women should be provided with equal educational opportunities, but that doesn’t mean the educational institutions were quick to comply. The takes an in-depth look at Yale University, located in New Haven, Connecticut, and demonstrates how the university did the minimal amount it could and still be in compliance with the law, made it tougher on the female students than the male students and some professors even took advantage of the female students leading to lawsuits and the creation of grievance boards at universities in the United States. Yale is certainly painted in a poor light during this episode. It also gives an in-depth look at the first all-female basketball league and the struggles it faced before folding, what happened to some of the players who were involved and how legal institutions used their actions with the league against them during court proceedings, such as a custody hearing.
These two episodes certainly don’t paint the United States, Congress, or our educational institutions in flattering lights. We see how women had to go through unnecessary challenges just because of their sex. It would be great to say that we have fully rectified this, but we haven’t. We’ve made strides. Things are better for women, overall, in 2022 than they were in 1972; although given recent Supreme Court decisions, many women may not agree with that; but we’ve got a long way to go before we have fully rectified how awful society has been to women.
This has been a sobering and eye-opening documentary. I’ve known about Title IX my entire life but didn’t truly understand it until I was in college. Now, I’ll occasionally see it in the news, usually when a university is found to be in violation of it. But this docuseries is doing a great job of showing how hard the fight was to get Title IX and how hard the fight has been, even with Title IX in place. Even if you don’t care about sports, you should give this docuseries a watch. I bet you’ll learn something.
Ranking: 5 stars
What did you think of the first two episode of “37 Words?”