Alaska Senator Ted Stevens: Civil Rights Advocate?
By Evan Weiner
January 4, 2009
1:00 PM EST
(New York, NY) -- On January 6, Democrat Mark Begich will be sworn in as Alaska's new Senator replacing Ted Stevens. Begich defeated the United State's Senate's longest-serving Republican, Ted Stevens, in November eight days after a jury convicted Stevens on corruption charges for lying about gifts he received from a wealthy oil contractor. Both a jury and the Alaska voters have had their say on Stevens, but how will history treat one-time Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens?
Years from now, Stevens will be celebrated as a civil rights advocate for his work decades ago.
Is Ted Stevens one of the most important men in the history of Women's Sports in the United States? He answer is yes. The Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments changed women's sports and opportunities for women in colleges. Stevens has been called one of the fathers of the Title IX legislation which was signed into law by President Richard Nixon and oddly enough it was not a law aimed at equaling the playing field in high school and college sports and giving women more opportunities to play big time college sports.
Officially the Title IX legislation is now known as the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act. Patsy Mink was a Congresswoman from Hawaii. A Democrat, Congresswoman Mink wrote the House version of the bill after she ran into obstacles in getting an education at the University of Hawaii, University of Nebraska and the University of Chicago. Mink was aided by Oregon Democrat Edith Green in the House and Indiana Democrat Birch Bayh in the Senate along with the Republican Stevens.
Title IX which was signed into law on June 23, 1972 stated: "No person in the United States shall on the basis of sex, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." Title IX was supposed to get rid of the quota system which certain colleges developed over the decades. College accepted a small amount of women students into law and medical programs which affected shut women out of the law and medical professions.
The law officially went into effect in 1973, but it wasn't until 1974 when the Health, Education, and Welfare Department finally proposed regulations to enforce it and another six years for the rules to take effect. In 1997, the United States Department of Education put out a report which stated: "Substantial progress has been made, for example, in overcoming the education gap that existed between men and women in completing four years of college. In 1971, 18 percent of female high school graduates were completing at least four years of college compared to 26 percent of their male peers. Today, that education gap no longer exists. Women now make up the majority of students in America's colleges and universities in addition to making up the majority of those receiving master's degrees. Women are also entering business and law schools in record numbers. Indeed, the United States stands alone and is a world leader in opening the doors of higher education to women."
Title IX has worked as the statistical comes in over the years. Men and women have equal opportunities in colleges, the workplace and even in sports.
Title IX has never been about sports, at least initially. Over the years it became a sports issue when colleges began dropping not revenue producing male sports, like wrestling, and coaches and athletic directors said they need to drop those sports because they were being forced to pay for women's programs to stay in compliance with Title IX regulations.
That argument is bogus but Title IX became a convenient excuse for decision makers when it came to justify cuts in programs. There is nothing in Title IX that requires that any men's sports be dropped or reduced to make way for women's programs and for nearly 37 years there has been the battle of money which funds sports, when the athletic department money dips and men sports are dropped, the blame game starts with women teams being the culprit.
Over the decades, Washington politicians and Title IX opponents in court suits have taken dead aim at Title IX and try to weaken the legislation, the last attempt was in 2005 when the U.S. Department of Education announced it was watering down its enforcement. There was a series of hearings around the United States, but Title IX survived intact. In 2007, Stevens and Washington Democrat Patty Murray sponsored a Senate Resolution that commemorates the 35th Anniversary of Title IX which passed.
Stevens and Murray issued a news release to celebrate the 35th anniversary.
“This Resolution reaffirms the Senate’s commitment to gender equality in collegiate athletics and education. Title IX has been a great success. It was a privilege to help craft this legislation 35 years ago, and as the father of three daughters, I am proud to continue supporting it today,” said Stevens. "This resolution recognizes 35 years of access and opportunity for millions of young women across our country," said Senator Murray. "By breaking down gender barriers in athletics, Title IX has allowed women to get a college education, reap the benefits of sports participation, and inspire new generations to strive for athletic success.
Stevens also was involved in the Olympic movement. The Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act in 1998 granted monopoly status to the United States Olympic Committee and included Paralympics athletes for the first time, providing National Governing Bodies of each of the Olympic sport the opportunity to integrate their Paralympics and Olympic efforts.
Stevens left his mark on sports. It might have been inadvertent as Title IX was an educational rather than a sports bill. Regardless, Stevens was a game changer and without Stevens, Bayh, Mink and Green, there might not be a Women's National Basketball Association, women soccer leagues and other opportunities for women who wanted a career in sports. Because of Stevens and others including Richard Nixon, those opportunities now exist not only in sports but in law, medicine, academics and other fields.