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NBC's Andrea Mitchell: Title IX broke barriers beyond athletics for women

On a softball field near the Capitol this week, a scrappy team of bipartisan women from the House and Senate – including four grandmothers – took on a far younger lineup of women from the congressional press corps to raise money for breast cancer research. The women of the press corps won 13 to 10, but not without fighting off a late-inning rally from the politicians. Watching from the sidelines: an 82-year-old retired high school coach, a woman who flew across country to root for one of her former students, California Congresswoman Laura Richardson.  A lot of the women on both teams played high school and college ball. So did UN Ambassador Susan Rice, who showed she had game in a basketball face-off among cabinet secretaries and WNBA players Thursday night. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius also had some moves.   

None of this would have happened before Title IX revolutionized women’s athletics, and a lot more. As President Obama (basketball coach to Sasha’s school team) points out today in his web address, “Title IX isn't just about sports. From addressing inequality in math and science education to preventing sexual assault on campus to fairly funding athletic programs, Title IX ensures equality for our young people in every aspect of their education. It's a springboard for success.”

There is perhaps no better example of what women could accomplish through sport and education than Pat Summitt, awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House for her accomplishments. And we shouldn’t forget that Title IX helped young women force their way into math and science courses that, in many cases, they had routinely been discouraged from taking.

For me, it’s personal. When I was the program manager of my college radio station, women couldn’t do sports play-by-play. The barriers went well beyond athletics: after graduating, on assignment for a Philadelphia all-news radio station, I was once barred from the press room in the State Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. No women allowed. Now, I look around our newsroom and see an incredible team of female executive and senior producers who have options that would have been inconceivable before Title IX. Appropriately, they take sports for granted. My senior producer, Michelle Perry, did crew for Berkeley. Our Senate producer, Libby Leist, was on the swim team at Cornell. And there is plenty of evidence that women who compete in sports perform better in other pursuits off the field.

For my generation, the imbalance was perhaps best symbolized by the careers of women like Billie Jean King. That’s why her defeat of Bobby Riggs, in the same era as the passage of Title IX, was such an empowering moment. Thanks to Title IX,  Billie Jean and other women athletes were able to break down barriers  for all the women who will be taking the field next month at the London Olympics. I’m going to be cheering them on, and thanking Billie Jean, Pat Summitt and all the others who pioneered the way.