Fifty years ago, Congress took action to protect equal opportunities for women in by passing Title IX. Title IX was designed to eliminate discrimination against women in education and athletics and create equal opportunities for them. In effect, Title IX paved the way for an explosion of female participation in sports.
But 50 years later, the hard-fought gains for women’s sports made possible by Title IX are at risk of being erased.
In recent years, we have seen increasing examples of males competing on female teams and dominating girls’ athletics. By substituting identity for biology, athletic associations and schools are forcing female athletes to compete against males and taking away opportunities from girls who deserve to win.
Women's sports laws: a nationwide movement
In 2020, four courageous high school track athletes in Connecticut—Selina Soule, Chelsea Mitchell, Alanna Smith, and Ashley Nicoletti— filed suit in federal court to challenge a Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference policy allowing males to compete in girls’ athletic events. As a result of this policy, all three girls had been consistently deprived of honors and opportunities to compete at elite levels after two males were permitted to compete against them. Their public stand for fairness in women’s sports sparked a nationwide legislative movement to ensure female athletes can compete on a level playing field.
Over the past three years, 18 states have enacted some variation of women’s sports laws to protect female athletes—that’s over one-third of the country with a women’s sports law on the books. And the number continues to grow. While most 2022 legislative sessions are winding down, several states still have active women’s sports bills up for consideration.
Such a swift, nationwide movement for legislative change is almost unprecedented, and it demonstrates the resounding support for laws establishing fairness in women’s sports. It is encouraging that so many elected officials are taking a stand for girls and women and the promises of Title IX.
Science demands laws that protect women's sports
Males have inherent physiological advantages in athletic competition. While accelerated by puberty, these advantages exist even in young children. And contrary to what certain athletic associations and committees may claim, testosterone suppression does not remove these advantages.
Common sense and scientific research continue to point to the necessity of policies that protect women’s athletic opportunities by ensuring girls and women are not forced to compete against men. While some sports organizations like World Rugby and U.S. Swimming have taken steps to ensure fairness in their competitions, unfortunately many athletic associations, the federal government, and some schools are ignoring the science and letting down women and girls by allowing males to compete on female teams.
States must step up and enact protections to ensure fairness in athletic competitions. Effective women’s sports laws include three main components, each of which is vital to ensuring fairness in athletic competition.
1. Clear standards for female teams
It is crucial that a clear standard is established when it comes to who can compete on teams for females. That standard must be based exclusively on sex. Biology is what matters in athletic potential, not identity. A claim of female gender identity—however sincere—does not erase a male’s physical advantage over women. When we use this standard for athletic teams, we ensure that fairness and equal athletic opportunities are preserved for women and girls.
2. Covering all female athletes – from grade school to college
Every female athlete deserves to compete on a fair and level playing field—from kindergarten to college. In response to pressure from powerful lobbyists employed by progressive state colleges, some state elected officials have not included protections for collegiate athletes in women’s sports bills. Such proposals are illogical and fail to guarantee fair female athletic competition. Why should the 18-year-old in high school be protected but then lose that protection when she steps on the collegiate playing field?
Especially considering the NCAA’s recent failure to enact policies protecting female collegiate athletes, it is more important than ever that states ensure women competing at the elite, collegiate level are given the opportunity to be champions in their own sports. Failing to protect women in college undermines the entire purpose of women’s sports laws.
Further, many opponents of women’s sports laws claim that these laws are not needed in grade school or middle school athletics, before boys and girls go through puberty. Such claims are false. Research shows that while boys’ physiological and performance advantages accelerate rapidly from the onset of puberty, significant male athletic performance advantages exist even before the developmental changes caused by male puberty have occurred.
The truth is that biology matters at all ages. In order to preserve fairness in women’s sports, women’s sports laws should apply to all female students, no matter their age.
3. Legal remedies for girls and women
The final component for effective protections for women’s sports is providing legal recourse for girls and women who are harmed by violations of the law. When women and girls are deprived of athletic opportunities because their school or college allowed males to compete on female teams, those female athletes must be given a legal remedy, such as a court order requiring the school to follow the law. A private cause of action empowers a girl who has been harmed to take a stand for the right of every woman to compete on a level playing field.
Together, these three components establish comprehensive protection for fairness in women’s sports. When one of these components is missing, the law does not adequately defend women and girls from the missed opportunities or lost spots on the podium that result from being forced to compete against males.
Taking a stand for fairness in women's sports
Since Selina, Chelsea, Alanna, and Ashley’s lawsuit in 2020, women and girls across the country have also stood up to protect their right to the equal athletic opportunities that Title IX provides. We’re thankful that so many state elected officials are listening and taking action rather than bowing down to intimidation from woke corporations and athletic associations.
At the signing ceremony for Florida’s women’s sports law last year, Gov. Ron DeSantis exemplified what it looks like for elected officials to defend female athletes in the face of intimidation: “At the end of the day, if the price of providing opportunities for all the girls throughout the state of Florida, for ensuring fair competition for them, if the price of that is that we lose an event or two, I would choose to protect our young girls every day of the week and twice on Sunday.”
This courage to stand for our women and girls is needed from elected officials in every state. When we ignore biological reality, female athletes lose medals, podium spots, public recognition, and opportunities to compete.
Enacting comprehensive women’s sports laws is essential to fulfill the promises of Title IX to protect equal opportunities for women.