For many high school female students, sports are a way to remain active, play alongside friends and possibly support their families at the professional level in the future. This month marked 50 years since the landmark federal law Title IX helped women across the country receive a fair chance in athletics, increasing access to perks usually reserved to men.
For Nike, which is celebrating its own 50-year heritage of serving women and young girls, progress is never done and the brand has proclaimed that the future 50 is dedicated to how it will serve her into the next 50 years. But while the benefits of Title IX and commitments like Nike’s have certainly helped level the playing field, have they enhanced the chances of Black and Brown student-athletes?
Reilyn Turner is the exception to that statement. The sophomore forward on the UCLA women’s soccer team is a force in the Pac-12 and became the first college student-athlete to sign a sponsorship deal with Nike. Additionally, with Turner's signing, the brand announced that NIL signings will include a social community give back component that empowers its athletes to give back and make a direct impact on serving the next generation of sport."
"As an advocate for women in sports and equality, Nike having those same values is really important to me," Turner told Yahoo Sports. "I know they're going to push the boundaries the same way I want to in professional career on and off the pitch."
Half a century later, Title IX remains undeniably significant. However, Black girls routinely still endure some form of disparity; the 37-world legislation makes no mention of race in its language. Title IX followed other monumental measures rooted in equal opportunity. The Civil Rights Act became law eight years prior and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 forbid discriminatory voting practices. Why couldn't the same energy be kept for Black competitors?
According to the Women's Sports Foundation, girls are withdrawing from sports at two times the rate of boys at the age of 14. Factors like cost and transportation are primary contributors, but the nonprofit also notes the lack of role models for young women. As someone who credits her parents and older sister for instilling a competitive spirit early on, Turner, who is half Black and half Mexican, wants to leverage her influence to encourage young women of color that a career in sports is attainable, regardless of whether you were raised with and athletic mindset or not.
"With Title IX, I think it's so important to strive for equality between men and women in sports. As an African American and Mexican American woman, really trying to be that representation for younger kids that have the same background as me is a real privilege. It's easier for them to see their goals as achievable when they see someone that looks like them doing the same thing."
Nike is taking action to create long-term change. The Made to Play Coaching Girls Guide is a free, open-source guide that was co- created by Nike and the Center for Healing & Justice Through Sport, with support from Youth Sport Trust in EMEA. The handbook equips coaches and other adults with tools that can help make sport fun for girls now and in the future.
The privilege to play
Many of the athletics expanded after the Title IX agreement — rowing, swimming and lacrosse, for example — were not as readily accessible to Black women in 1972, perhaps even today. U.S. women’s national team (USWNT) winger Crystal Dunn told Yahoo Sports in August 2020 about her own experience playing in a "middle-class sport."
"You’re basically the only one on the pitch until you play on a college team. Although it’s getting better, I think where we really dropped the ball was at the youth level. In our country, soccer is pretty much a middle-class sport, compared to overseas where you don’t need to invest a lot of money for your child to play. Thank goodness I had parents who were financially able to finance my participation in a traveling club where I would be seen by top recruiters."
Madison Hammond, defender for the NWSL's Angel City FC, told Yahoo Sports that during her time with the OL Reign, she participated in an exercise that examined the individual player’s privilege. As prompts like "Did you grow up in a two-parent household" and "Could you afford to attend college without a scholarship?" were asked, Reign players were instructed to step forward. After all 10 questions, it was a moment of reflection for the 24-year-old Nike athlete.
"Every single person that participated were also Black and Brown, and that moment was extremely eye-opening for me," Hammond recalled. "We're all on the same team together, but I have a teammate who didn't take any steps forward and then there's another who took all 10. Yet, you're still somehow supposed to reach the same goals and accumulate similar awards. Your starting point is much different than the woman next to you. You're a pro, you're at the same level and you might have made it, but many don't realize the sacrifices we all have to make to get to this position."
Hammond understands the influence she has as a Native American and Black female player, and her message to younger women is ingrained in recognizing her impact doesn’t have to be made on the pitch. Women can make a sizable difference across all sectors of sport.
Hammond and Turner both credit Nike for encouraging them to openly discuss these topics. As the first Native American player in the NWSL, Hammond is an ambassador of Nike's N7 program. The focus of N7 is to shine a light on Native American and Indigenous athletes and figures across North America. Title IX encourages women to play as their authentic selves, and that's what Hammond intends to do for the entirety of her career.
By 2025, Nike also plans to reach a target goal of 50% girl participation worldwide in all sport-based community programs funded by the Made to Play commitment. That includes recruiting more female coaches and developing gender-inclusive programs that are tailored specifically toward individuals of all fitness levels. The mission promotes sport as creative, inclusive and unlimited in possibility. In the company's words, "If you have a body, you are an athlete."
Fifty years may have passed, but Title IX is still young at heart. As we enter the next half century, filled with Black, Brown and Indigenous players leveraging their platform for societal changes, there’s a confidence among women in sports that barriers will be broken and an equal playing field will be achieved for all women, no matter their race.