ESPN Films continues its look at the importance of Title IX and what is means for equal opportunities in education, and how athletics has influenced those equal opportunities in the documentary series, “37 Words.” While Parts 1 and 2 gave us a look at how Title IX came to be and the struggles that came immediately after its passing, Parts 3 and 4 give us a look at the fight that continued even with generations who grew up with Title IX being a part of the law and the fight that continues as the conversation moves into the LGBTQIA+ community and specifically trans kids in sports.
Part 3 was my favorite episode of this docuseries. It takes a look at how women’s professional sports have grown thanks to Title IX providing athletics opportunities at an early age for girls. We hear from Julie Foudy, Mia Hamm and Abby Wambach about the fight for US Women’s Soccer over the years. They speak about the importance of getting a women’s World Cup in 1991, how the US hosting the women’s World Cup in 1999 made it possible for women’s soccer leagues to come to fruition, and how the fight shifted from just being happy to have tournament to demanding equal pay. We also learn about the creation and influence of the WNBA and how David Stern, then-commissioner of the NBA, stepped in to ensure the WNBA, unlike other women’s sports leagues, got support during its early struggles so it didn’t fold.
It was amazing to hear from these legends from different sports discuss the importance Title IX had on their childhoods and how it helped shaped their professional leagues. It’s great to see how something that could’ve very easily just been a footnote in history has grown into legitimate opportunities for women. Plus, given that I’ve seen the US Women’s Soccer team win multiple World Cups while the men have only made it to the Quarterfinals of the World Cup once in my lifetime, and twice overall, maybe we should acknowledge that the women are ahead of the men and start treating them like it.
Part four was a harder episode to sit through, but it may be the most important episode of this docuseries. We see how women are mistreated on high school and college campuses by their male peers. It reached a point that one high school saw female after female student describe their experience of sexual harassment in an all day protest. It was a clear sign that we should be better. We also learn about steps the Obama Administration implemented in an effort to help female students and how Betsy Devos and the Trump Administration made changes to those programs by making them narrower. It was viewed by many as protecting the schools instead of protecting the students.
Then, it transitioned into the fight for trans kids and how they want to just play sports with people of the sex they identify as. It’s a powerful moment where you watch as their parents struggle with battles in state legislatures, particularly in Texas, and how these kids just want to play. The kids stand up for what they believe in. You know they are struggling, but every one of them puts on a happy face. The parents show the struggles because they hate to see their kids excluded. It’s a fight that is continuing. And it’s also one that leads to a split over Title IX, as some are using the law as a way to exclude trans kids, claiming allowing trans kids to play girls sports takes opportunities away from cis-gendered girls. It has split the feminist community and is allowing politicians to use the law for their own personal gain.
This has been an excellent series. It has been entertaining, but more importantly than that, it’s been informative. I’ve learned so much that I never considered before because I didn’t have to. I am more cognizant of the struggles of others. Title IX is one of the most important laws in our country’s history and I’m intrigued to see where it will go given the current culture wars in our country.