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Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women

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Girls and Women shines a light on the current landscape for girls and women in sport reflected in the latest data from nearly 500 research reports and results from a new national survey of more than 2,300 women working in women's sport. Taking stock of where we are in achieving gender equity in sport requires study, transparency and candor. This groundbreaking report brings together the latest facts and milestones and elevates the voices of women offering fresh insight and perspective. Importantly the report includes calls to action to help propel momentum for change. Stakeholders in all areas of sport, from grassroots to high school, college and elite athletics, collegiate administrators, coaches, policymakers, leaders in the corporate and media sectors all have a critical role to play. The WSF is committed to keeping these conversations at the forefront and working collaboratively with others to accelerate the pace of change. Continued progress depends on comprehensive, up-to-date information in real time. Only when we operate from a shared understanding of the landscape can we ensure thoughtful conversation and sound decision-making necessary for progress. From playing fields to board rooms, girls and women continue to live out their passion for sport. As these accomplishments are celebrated, let's continue to examine the gaps and opportunities to ensure that all girls and all women can get in the game. Only then will we be able to realize the full potential unleashed by sport. All girls. All women. All sports.
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Chasing Equity:
The Triumphs, Challenges, and
Opportunities in Sports for Girls
and Women
A Women’s Sports Foundation Research Report, January 2020
Our Mission
We are the
ally, advocate
and catalyst
for tomorrow’s
leaders. We exist
to enable girls and
women to reach
their potential in
sports and life.
Women’s Sports Foundation
WomensSportsFoundation.org
Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and
Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women
1
Letter from the CEO
THE TIME FOR EQUITY IS NOW
At the Women’s Sports Foundation, we recognize that knowledge is power. The WSF’s latest report,
Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges and Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women shines

nearly 500 research reports and results from a new national survey of more than 2,300 women
working in women’s sport. Taking stock of where we are in achieving gender equity in sport requires
study, transparency and candor. This groundbreaking report brings together the latest facts and

the report includes calls to action to help propel momentum for change. Stakeholders in all areas of
sport, from grassroots to high school, college and elite athletics, collegiate administrators, coaches,
policymakers, leaders in the corporate and media sectors all have a critical role to play. The WSF is
committed to keeping these conversations at the forefront and working collaboratively with others to
accelerate the pace of change.
Continued progress depends on comprehensive, up-to-date information in real time. Only when we
operate from a shared understanding of the landscape can we ensure thoughtful conversation and

continue to live out their passion for sport. As these accomplishments are celebrated, let’s continue to
examine the gaps and opportunities to ensure that all girls and all women can get in the game. Only
then will we be able to realize the full potential unleashed by sport. All girls. All women. All sports.
Dr. Deborah Antoine, CEO, Women’s Sports Foundation
Women’s Sports Foundation
WomensSportsFoundation.org
Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and
Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women
2
Acknowledgments
Women’s Sports Foundation Acknowledgments
First, the WSF is indebted to the study authors, Ellen J.
Staurowsky, Ed.D.; Nicholas Watanabe, Ph.D.; Joseph
Cooper, Ph.D.; Cheryl Cooky, Ph.D.; Nancy Lough,
Ph.D.; Amanda Paule-Koba, Ph.D.; Jennifer Pharr,
Ph.D.; Sarah Williams, Ph.D.; Sarah Cummings, Ph.D.;
Karen Issokson-Silver, MPH; and Marjorie Snyder, Ph.D.
A special thank you to Ellen Staurowsky, who left no stone

in a meaningful and compelling way. We are fortunate to
be able to call upon such scholars to carry out the vision
for the report.
The panel of scholars, health policy experts, youth sport
leaders, college coaches and administrators, and sport

action provided invaluable feedback that improved the

Kathryn Ackerman, M.D., MPH, Physician, Sports Medicine
Division; Director, Female Athlete Program, Assistant
Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School
Megan Bartlett, Founder, We Coach
Leeja Carter, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Sport and Exercise
Psychology, Long Island University
Sarah Crennan, Vice-President and Head of Content,
Yahoo Sports
Kathy DeBoer, Executive Director, American Volleyball
Coaches Association
Kathleen Francis, National Board Chair and President,
Women in Sports and Events
 Professor Emerita, University of
Massachusetts Amherst
Robin Harris, Executive Director, The Ivy League
Megan Kahn, Executive Director, WeCoach
Richard Lapchick, Ph.D., Director, The Institute for
Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES), University of
Central Florida
Nicole LaVoi, Ph.D., Director, The Tucker Center for
Research on Girls & Women in Sport, University
of Minnesota
Jayma Meyers, J.D., Counsel at Simpson Thacher &
Bartlett, Visiting Clinical Professor of Sports Law and
Public Policy at Indiana University
Meghan Morgan, Executive Director, Girls in the Game
Diane Mulitinovich, Former Head Coach and Athletics
Administrator at California State University Fresno
Celene Reynolds, Ph.D., Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow,
Cornell University
Don Sabo, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, D’Youville College;
Senior Advisor of Health and Sport Policy, Women’s
Sports Foundation
Vivian Santora, President & CEO, PowerPlay NYC
 V.P., Programs & Acquisitions, ESPN
Deborah Slaner Larkin, Former CEO, Women’s Sports
Foundation and former member President’s Council on
Physical Fitness and Sports
Judy Sweet, Chair, Gender Equity Task Force, NCAA
Andy Whitcomb, President, National Field Hockey
Coaches Association
Sandy Vivas, Founder, CEO and President of
AthleticLink.com
Chris Voelz, Executive Director of the Collegiate
Women Sports Awards, Founder and CEO of Athletics
Plus Consulting
We are grateful to Erin Buzuvis, J.D., Professor, Western
New England College of Law, and Nicole Melton, Ph.D.,
Associate Professor, Sport Management, University of
Massachusetts, the primary authors of the calls to action,
for their thoughtful and thorough development of the calls
to action that can lead to improvements in participation
and leadership opportunities for all girls and women.
The Women’s Sports Foundation thanks its National
Partners Chevrolet, espnW and ESPN, Gatorade, and
NBC Sports Group for their year-round support and
commitment to help strengthen and expand opportunities
for all girls and all women through all sports.
Women’s Sports Foundation
WomensSportsFoundation.org
Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and
Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women
3
Authors’ Acknowledgments
We are grateful to the Women’s Sports Foundation and
its CEO, Dr. Deborah Antoine, for making this report
a reality. Deep thanks to Karen Issokson-Silver, MPH,
WSF Vice-President for Research and Evaluation, and
Dr. Marjorie Snyder, WSF Senior Director of Research &
Programs, whose vision and project management skills
illuminated every step of this project. Thanks also to
Deana Monahan for her editorial and graphic skills, and
the research work of Sarah Axelson, MPA, WSF Senior
Director of Advocacy. A special note of acknowledgement

Henry, WSF volunteers for their thoughtful contributions to
the report. Finally, this report continues a long-standing
practice at the Foundation of drawing upon research
from multiple disciplines to help tell the story of girls
and women in sport and to bring that work to bear in
the creation of public policy. To all of the researchers,
journalists, and authors whose work we drew upon
here, we are indebted to you for your contributions. We
are also further humbled to report on girls and women
who play sport in the United States, the ones who do
not have access, and to the women sport leaders who
serve the sport industry with such enduring commitment
and resolve.
About the Women’s Sports Foundation
The Women’s Sports Foundation exists to enable girls
and women to reach their potential in sports and life.
We are an ally, an advocate and a catalyst. Founded
by Billie Jean King in 1974, we strengthen and expand
participation and leadership opportunities through
research, advocacy, community programming and
a wide variety of collaborative partnerships. The
Women’s Sports Foundation has positively shaped the
lives of millions of youth, high school and collegiate
student-athletes, elite athletes and coaches. We’re
building a future where every girl and woman can

participation. All girls. All women. All sports. To learn
more about the Women’s Sports Foundation, please visit
www.WomensSportsFoundation.org
Preferred Citation: Staurowsky, E. J., Watanabe, N.,
Cooper, J., Cooky, C., Lough, N., Paule-Koba, A., Pharr, J.,
Williams, S., Cummings, S., Issokson-Silver, K., & Snyder,
M. (2020). Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and
Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women. New York,
NY: Women’s Sports Foundation.
© 2020, Women’s Sports Foundation, All Rights Reserved.
Women’s Sports Foundation
WomensSportsFoundation.org
Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and
Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women
4
Table of Contents
Executive Summary ..........................................................................................................................................................................6
Full Report Introduction .................................................................................................................................................................. 14
Purpose, Design & Method ............................................................................................................................................................. 15
Part 1. Sport Participation for Girls & Women in the U.S. ...............................................................................................................16
A. Participation Opportunities for Girls and Women in the U.S. ................................................................................................16
Grassroots/Youth Sport Participation Opportunities ............................................................................................................17
High School Sport Participation Opportunities ......................................................................................................................19
College Sport Participation Opportunities .............................................................................................................................21
Elite/Professional Sport Participation Opportunities ........................................................................................................... 22
B. The Benets of Sport Participation for Girls & Women ........................................................................................................24
.............................................................................................25
 ................................................................................................26
 .........................................................................................27
 .........................................................................................28
C. Barriers to Sport Participation for Girls and Women in the U.S. ..........................................................................................29
Cost of Participation & Financial Resource Concerns ..........................................................................................................29
Location & Safety .....................................................................................................................................................................30
Quality of Coach Expertise.......................................................................................................................................................31
Time Constraints & Demands ..................................................................................................................................................31
Sport Specialization .................................................................................................................................................................32
Technology ................................................................................................................................................................................ 32
Gender Norms & Stereotypes .................................................................................................................................................33
Culture & Multiple Identities ....................................................................................................................................................34
Other Barriers to Girls & Women’s Sport Participation ........................................................................................................35
D. Health & Safety Concerns ......................................................................................................................................................35
Coach Emotional & Verbal Abuse ...........................................................................................................................................35
Female Athletes & Sexual Abuse .............................................................................................................................................37
Female Athletes & Mental Health ...........................................................................................................................................38
.......................................................................39
Injuries in Female Athletes .......................................................................................................................................................40
Women’s Sports Foundation
WomensSportsFoundation.org
Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and
Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women
5
Part II. Title IX, Its Impact on the U.S. Sport System, and Its Enforcement ..................................................................................43
A. Title IX Enforcement: Title IX Coordinators & the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act ..........................................................43
B. Title IX Standards: Equal Access to Participation, Athletic Scholarships & Equal Treatment ...........................................46
Title IX’s Three-Part Test of Athletic Participation ................................................................................................................46
Title IX’s Analysis of Substantially Proportional Athletic Scholarship Allocations ..............................................................48
 .....................................................................................................................................49
Part III. Representation of Women in Sport Leadership Positions & Jobs in the Sport Industry ...................................................50
A. Women Working in Professional Sport & Women Athletes in the Corporate Sector ...........................................................50
B. Women Working in College Sport ...........................................................................................................................................52
C. Women Working in Olympic Sport .........................................................................................................................................54
D. Women Working in Sport Media .............................................................................................................................................54
E. Women Working in Sport: A Long Way from Fair Compensation & Treatment ....................................................................55
Sport Workplace Initiatives Targeting Women Hires .............................................................................................................55
Sport Workplace Climate & Gender Bias ...............................................................................................................................56
Pay Inequities Throughout U.S. Sport Systems ......................................................................................................................59
A Culture of Gender Bias in the Sport Workplace .................................................................................................................60
Part IV. Quantity and Quality of Sport Media Coverage of Female Athletes ...............................................................................62
Conclusion ......................................................................................................................................................................................65
Calls to Action ................................................................................................................................................................................66
Participation ................................................................................................................................................................................66
Barriers ........................................................................................................................................................................................ 67
Title IX ..........................................................................................................................................................................................68
Women in Sport Leadership ........................................................................................................................................................69
Media Coverage .........................................................................................................................................................................70
Appendix: Female Leaders in Sport Survey ....................................................................................................................................71
References ......................................................................................................................................................................................76
Women’s Sports Foundation
WomensSportsFoundation.org
Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and
Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women
6
During the summer of 2019, the harvest of seeds of
women’s empowerment sown in the U.S. sport system
nearly 50 years earlier with the passage of Title IX of the
Education Amendments of 1972 was on full display for
the world to see. The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team
(USWNT) was chasing its fourth Women’s World Cup title
in decisive fashion in Lyon, France. That same weekend,
the U.S. Softball Team put in a gold-medal-winning
performance at the USA International Softball Cup and
the U.S. Women’s Volleyball Team won the FIVB Nations
League Championship (Andrejev, 2019).
Tennis star Serena Williams, two years after having her

women’s singles competition while pairing with Scottish
player Andy Murray in mixed doubles. The University of
California at Los Angeles women’s softball team won
their 12th Women’s College World Series title. And U.S.
women’s gymnast Simone Biles continued to elevate the



Gymnastics Championship, winning her sixth national title
in the process (Armour, 2019; Asmelash & Muaddi, 2019).
She followed this performance by extending her record-
setting world medal total to 25 (Clarke, 2019).
Along the way, records were set not only in terms of team
and individual athlete performances but also in economic
and cultural impact. Inspiring a boost in Nike team
apparel sales, USWNT home soccer jerseys outpaced
sales for men’s jerseys (Mello, 2019). According to an

U.S. Soccer national team jersey, men’s or women’s, of all
time, with sales more than 500% greater this year vs. the

2019). In 2019, across 17 games, including the Women’s
World Cup championship game against the Netherlands,
the team drew an average viewing audience of 2,706,412
per game (Dockery, 2019). Just under 14 million viewers

Worldwide, a record 1.12 billion viewers tuned into the
tournament (Glass, 2019).
Even as U.S. women athletes shone on the world stage, the
spotlight was trained not only on their accomplishments
but also on the barriers that they faced as they ascended
to the best in the world. While the USWNT battled on

World Cup, prevailing over Netherlands to win their fourth
championship and second in a row, they were battling
their own federation at home over equal pay and other
equal employment issues. This stark reality prompted
50 members of the U.S. Congress to write to the U.S.
Federation expressing disapproval for indefensible
treatment of the USWNT and demanding that a plan be
implemented to address the lack of parity between the
men’s and women’s teams (Spier, Frankel, Lawrence,
Escobar, & Haaland, 2019). All of that was happening
under the dark shadow cast by the failures of U.S. sport
federations, college athletic programs, youth sport
organizations, and sport media companies to protect
female athletes and female employees from sexual
assault and harassment and to respond empathetically
and appropriately when sexual violence against girls and
women occurred (Cook, 2018b; Guinee, 2019; North, 2019;
Tracy, 2019).
In this report, we examine the state of girls’ and women’s
sport in the United States through a broad lens, looking
at the triumphs, the challenges, and the tremendous
opportunities that are yet to be realized. The areas we
focus on include sport participation opportunities for

for girls and women; the barriers that limit and/or
hinder participation; critical health and safety concerns
of females in sport; Title IX and its ongoing role in
supporting the infrastructure for equal access to sport
participation for girls and women; the representation
of women working in the sport industry and the climate
they encounter while working in sport, including pay
equity and equal treatment issues; the level and quality
of sport media coverage of female athletes; and the
representation of women working in sport media.
Executive Summary
“I just think participation in sport
does so much for the well-being
of girls—it builds their condence,
helps manage stress/mental
health, and prepares them to
handle failure, knowing that the
next day may be when they win. It
is great preparation for a career.
— Respondent, Female Leaders in
Sport Survey
Women’s Sports Foundation
WomensSportsFoundation.org
Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and
Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women
7
The information presented in this report draws upon both
primary and secondary sources. A team of researchers
conducted an extensive literature review of nearly
500 research studies and reports from scholars, sport
governing bodies and public policy organizations; a

including selected lawsuits; and a review of media reports
primarily spanning the time period between 2014-19
with the goal of identifying, gathering, analyzing, and

girls and women in sport in the United States.

address perennial issues that have held girls and women
back from participating and working in U.S. sport as
fully enfranchised peers and colleagues of boys and

nationally representative survey of U.S. female sport
leaders (N=2,356) from across all sectors of girls’ and
women’s sport (youth, high school, college, elite/Olympic,
and professional) to gauge their thoughts about where
progress has been made, where things have stalled, and
what steps they recommend be taken to empower girls
and women further as participants and as workers within

from that survey are interwoven throughout this report.
Sport participation is critical to empowering U.S. girls and
women. While there are legions of studies that document

of consistent participation in physical activity and sport as


sport participation that are both immediate and long-
term, and ensuring that all U.S. girls and women have
access to sport and physical activity is key to the health
and the success of the nation.
Outlined in this executive summary are 10 key highlights
from the report.
1. Making Headway: Access for Girls is on the Rise
When examined in its totality, with all sectors of sport
from youth through professional levels considered, girls
and women have improved access to sport opportunities.
Girls across the United States participate in a wide

with school-based, community-based, church-based,

Girls participate in not only traditional youth sports like
Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball or American
Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) soccer programs but
also sport programs that combine sports with positive
youth development lessons (e.g., Girls on the Run).
According to the National Federation of State High School
Associations (NFHS), girls’ high school sport participation
reached an all-time high for the 29th consecutive year in
the United States, with 3,415,306 opportunities for girls
to compete in high school sports in 2017-18, and only
dropped slightly in 2018-19 to 3,402,733 (NFHS, 2019). Girls
have 42.9% of all high school opportunities.
During the 2017-18 season, there were 216,378 female

Athletic Association (NCAA) member institutions
(44.2%), representing a 291% increase from 1981-82 (U.S.
Department of Education, 2019).
The representation of American women in the 2016
Olympic Games was unprecedented, with the U.S.
delegation of 292 women being the largest in Olympic
history (Houghton, Pieper, & Smith, 2018). The
Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), the
longest-running women’s professional team sport league
in the world, celebrated its 23rd consecutive season in
existence in 2019. The U.S. National Women’s Soccer Team
won the Women’s World Cup for a record fourth time, and
the tournament will be expanded from 24 to 32 teams
by 2023. Across the board, more girls and women are

Table 1: Benets of Sport Participation
Physical Benets
Lower risk of obesity
Lower blood pressure
Higher levels of cardio-

Reduced risk of
cardiovascular disease
Reduced risk of breast cancer
Social/Emotional Benets
Improved psychological
well-being
Greater life satisfaction
Stronger sense of belonging
Improved self-esteem
Reduced symptoms of
depression, anxiety, and stress
Academic/Leadership Benets
Improved academic
achievement
Higher high school graduation
rates
Higher college attendance
and retention
Greater involvement in
extracurricular activities
Opportunities for leadership
and learning
From Staurowsky et al., 2020. Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women.
Women’s Sports Foundation
WomensSportsFoundation.org
Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and
Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women
8
2. Closing the Divide: Gender Gap in Participation Persists
Girls enter sports later, participate in fewer numbers, and
exit earlier than boys (Sabo & Veliz, 2008). As a general
trend, between the ages of 6 to 10, girls’ participation in
sport lags behind that of boys by 10 percentage points
(Aspen Institute, 2018). In 2017, the sport participation
gap had narrowed to 4% among eighth graders but is
the largest at 14% among 12th graders (Meier, Benjamin,
& Larson, 2018). Boys are also more likely than girls to
play two or more sports (47% vs. 29%) (Zarrett, Veliz, &
Sabo, 2018). Annually, boys receive more than 1.13 million
more high school sports opportunities than girls (NFHS,
2019), and the gap between high school boys’ and girls’

years (Zarrett et al., 2018).
At the college level, in 2017-18 women had 62,236 fewer
participation opportunities than men in NCAA sports
(NCAA, 2019).
At the professional level, there are so few viable
opportunities in sports like women’s volleyball and
basketball, women have to pursue professional careers
overseas. The 30 NBA teams can each have up to 15
players (NBA, 2019), while the 12 WNBA teams are limited
to 12 roster spots (WNBA, 2019). The six National Pro
Fastpitch Softball teams are limited to 26 players for a
total of 156 players (Sievers, 2017), while the 30 Major
League Baseball regular-season rosters are limited to 25
for a total of 750 players (MLB, 2019). Much work remains
before fair access at all levels of sport is achieved.
3. Sport for All: More Resources Are Needed for Girls of
Color and Other Marginalized Communities
Girls of color, girls of lower socioeconomic status, and
girls in urban and rural areas often enter sports later,
participate in lower numbers, and drop out earlier
than White girls, suburban girls, and girls from higher
socioeconomic status. For example, the drop-out rate for
girls of color in urban centers is twice that of suburban
White girls. By the age of 14, 24% of girls in urban areas
dropped out, while 13% of girls from rural areas dropped
out by this age, and 6% of girls from suburban areas
dropped out by this age (Sabo & Veliz, 2008).
In a comparison between White and African American
girls, White girls were found to be three times more likely
to be involved in sport through a private organization
(21% to 7%). African American girls were more likely to

compared to 50%) (Graves, Kaufmann, & Frolich, 2014).
The disparate rates at which African American and
White girls participate in physical activity have been
attributed to African American girls being more likely to
attend schools with fewer resources and higher poverty
rates. This impacts material resources (gymnasiums and

opportunities to play. Because of the vast resource gaps
available in typical heavily minority high schools (less than
10% White enrollment), girls of color have access to far
fewer athletic participation opportunities than students
attending typical heavily White high schools (90% White
enrollment) (National Women’s Law Center, 2015b).
Youth from other marginalized groups also participate
in sport in lower numbers. From a gender perspective,
boys with disabilities consistently participate in sport at
higher rates than girls with disabilities (U.S. Government

2019), of the 15,571 high school students who participated
in adaptive sport activities during the 2018-19 academic
year, 44% were female students (6,960). Girls in immigrant
families report lower rates of sport participation than boys
from similar families as many immigrant parents hold
traditional attitudes towards gender roles (Sabo & Veliz,
2008; Thul, LaVoi, Hazelwood, & Hussein, 2016; Thul, LaVoi,
& Wasend, 2018). In a study by the Human Rights Campaign
(2017), while 68% of all high school students participated in
sport, only 29% of LGBTQ girls participated. Understanding
the needs of underserved populations is critical to closing
the participation gaps.
4. Measure for Measure: Title IX Compliance Falls Short
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 comprises
37 words that have had a profound impact on the
educational experiences of students by generally barring
sex discrimination in schools supported with federal

educational programming. Described by one author as

doors of opportunity for girls and women in previously

pathways for more girls to dream of becoming — and
more women to become — astronauts, carpenters,
executives, journalists, lawyers, mechanics, physicians,

Harlem Lacrosse
Women’s Sports Foundation
WomensSportsFoundation.org
Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and
Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women
9
athletes. As Title IX approaches its 50th birthday in 2022,
there is no doubt that the law has had a major positive
impact on the prospects and possibilities available for
girls and women in sport. The work, however, is not
yet done.

opportunities to female athletes and across every
resource category in National Collegiate Athletic
Association (NCAA), National Association of Intercollegiate
Athletics (NAIA), National Junior College Athletic
Association (NJCAA), California Community College
Athletic Association (CCCAA), and other college and
university athletic departments.
The vast majority of institutions across all three NCAA

disproportionately higher rates of athletic opportunities
to male athletes compared to their enrollment. In 2017-18,

athletic opportunities to female athletes proportional
to their enrollment. Seventy percent of NCAA Division I

numbers of athletic participation opportunities to male
athletes, ranging from 2% to 34% above the proportion of
male enrollment (U.S. Department of Education, 2019).
While total spending on athletic scholarships in NCAA
institutions in Divisions I and II was in excess of $3 billion,
with female athletes receiving 46%, male athletes received
$240,435,504 more in athletic scholarship assistance.
At the high school level, despite girls comprising nearly
half of the student body (U.S. Department of Education,
2012), the 3.4 million opportunities for girls to play high
school sports in 2017-18 fell well short of the 4.5 million
opportunities for boys who played high school sports that
year (NFHS, 2019). When all schools are compliant with
Title IX, much of the participation gap will disappear.
5. Knowledge is Power: Title IX Enforcement Requires
Education and Transparency
Every school in the United States receiving federal funding
is required to designate a Title IX coordinator to oversee

study of high school athletic administrators conducted by

an estimated 51% were either unaware of who their Title
IX coordinator was or were unsupported by their Title IX
coordinator. Being able to identify the Title IX coordinator
is critical. In a study of nearly 1,100 college and university
coaches, just over 30% were aware of who their Title IX
coordinator was; 42.8% were not sure (Staurowsky &
Weight, 2013).


coordinators worked with athletic administrators on

association that conducts Title IX trainings, it was the
view of the trainers that high school Title IX coordinators’
familiarity with Title IX regulations pertaining to athletics
was low (Nowicki, 2017). Knowledge of Title IX is low
among athletes, coaches, and administrators (Weight &
Staurowsky, 2014; Staurowsky, Zonder, & Reimer, 2017).

of college athletes from NCAA Divisions I and III indicated
that they did not know what Title IX is (N=210) (Staurowsky
et al., 2017). According to Staurowsky and Weight (2013),
83% of college coaches (N=1,093) reported that they never
received any formal training about Title IX as part of
preparation for their jobs.


and women’s athletic programs, the Equity in Athletics
Disclosure Act (EADA) passed in 1994 requires colleges
and universities to annually report participation data and
budget allocations broken out by gender. As important
as the EADA database has been in shedding light on how
resources are allocated by gender within college and
university athletic departments, there has been a concern
that school administrators are not forthcoming in their
self-reporting of information about their institutions.
Recent court cases have raised questions as to whether

by some schools for the purpose of presenting a more
favorable record in terms of complying with Title IX’s
three-part test (Staurowsky, 2018a; Staurowsky, 2018b).
Title IX accountability is disabled if school administrators,
athletic directors, coaches, athletes, parents, fans, media,
and others are uninformed or misinformed about what the
law requires (Nowicki, 2017; Staurowsky & Weight, 2011;
Staurowsky & Weight, 2013; Weight & Staurowsky, 2014).
6. Cracking the Code: Gender Role Beliefs Endure
Pressures to adhere to narrow gender norms and

athletes are viewed and valued and the way that female
athletes who do not conform to gender-role scripts are
treated. In a national study of 814 parents, it was found
that they tended to place a somewhat higher value on
sport for their sons than their daughters (YouGov America,
Inc., 2017). Gender-role beliefs held by parents played a

daughters’ participation in sport and the types of sports
their daughters played (Heinze et al., 2017).
Peer pressure to conform to gender norms is also at play.
In a survey of girls (Zarrett, Cooky, & Veliz, 2019), over
one-third (32%) of the girls reported that sometimes boys
made fun of them or made them feel uncomfortable while
they practiced. Nearly one-third of girls (31%) expressed
that appearance-related reasons were part of their
motivation for their participation.
Findings from several studies indicate that African
American female athlete concerns about their
hair and appearance are barriers to participation
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(Woolford, Woolford-Hunt, Sami, Blake, & Williams, 2016;

2018), and Latina girls cite gender-related teasing and
self-consciousness as cause for discomfort in participating
in sport (Lopez, 2019).
For trans female athletes (athletes who identify as
female but were assigned male at birth) and other
non-gender-conforming athletes, overt discrimination

participation and subjects them to hostile climates.
In an analysis of physical activity disparities between
heterosexual and sexual minority youth between the
ages of 12 and 22 years using data from the U.S. Growing
Up Today study, Calzo et al. (2014) found that sexual
minorities (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, mostly heterosexual)
were 46%-76% less likely to participate in team sports
than their same-sex heterosexual peers. Intolerance to

to participation. According to a survey conducted by
Dennison & Kitchen (2015), 84% of Americans indicated
that they either witnessed or experienced anti-LGBT
attitudes in sport.
Immigrant girls also face barriers. Girls in immigrant
families report lower rates of sport participation than boys
in similar families since many immigrant parents hold
traditional attitudes towards gender roles (Sabo & Veliz,
2008; Thul et al., 2016; Thul et al., 2018). These girls may
be less likely to participate in sport, as immigrant parents
tend to have negative attitudes towards their daughters’
sport participation (Strandbu, Bakken, & Sletten, 2019).
Beliefs driven by stereotypes and discrimination continue
to keep many girls and women from fully participating
in sport.
7. In the Spotlight: Headlines Call Out Abusive Behavior
Given the unique aspects of the sport environment, female
athletes are vulnerable to verbal, emotional, and sexual
abuse. Due to the power imbalance and authoritarian
nature of sport, scholars argue athletics is a prime climate
for the abuse of athletes (Cense & Brackenridge, 2001;
Kerr & Stirling, 2012; Stirling & Kerr, 2013). A meta-analysis
conducted on literature that examined non-accidental
violence in sport found that “non-accidental violence is

types and ages, though children, elite athletes and those
from stigmatized groups (e.g., women, LGBTQ, gender
non-conforming, and athletes with disabilities) are more

Grant, 2019).
Recently, an awakening has occurred as a result of highly
publicized cases of hundreds of female and male athletes

predators and testifying in very public ways to the failures

their fellow athletes. There is growing awareness that
sexual abuse in its many forms, from sex abuse to sexual
harassment to sexual assault to interpersonal violence
to rape, occurs across the expanse of sport spaces
and can be perpetrated by individuals in positions of
authority (e.g., administrators, performance directors,
coaches, members of the media, parents, sports medicine
personnel) or may occur between athlete peers and
between colleagues (Parent & Fortier, 2018). The most
prominent sex abuse scandal in sports involved the USA
Gymnastics and Michigan State University team doctor,
Larry Nassar. Nassar abused and assaulted 265 known
individuals over 25 years (BBC News, 2018; Mencarini,
2018). It became clear that countless adults in gymnastics
centers across the country, USA Gymnastics high-ranking

department and administration failed each and every
victim Nassar abused. Winning and the pursuit of gold was
prioritized over these girls’ and young women’s well-being
and safety.
While there is much more to be known about the extent
of the harm done to athletes individually and collectively
throughout the U.S. sport system, female athletes
and women working in the sport industry have been
particularly vulnerable to this violence and have had to
live with its negative impacts (Fasting, Brackenridge,
Kjølberg, 2013; Vertommen et al, 2018). Sexual abuse in
athletics is not relegated to coaches and athletes. As
discussions continue on how to make sport environments
safe for athletes and those who work in them, the data
make a compelling case for why these issues must be
at the top of agendas for public policy makers, sport
administrators, parents, law enforcement, and media.
8. Managing Risk: Unique Health Needs and Injuries Can
Sideline Girls and Women
While there is no question that participation in sport

can last a lifetime, participation in any kind of activity can
pose health and safety concerns. As a result, it is critical to
be aware of vulnerabilities in the sport system that pose
potential threats to female athletes and to be responsive
to their needs.
From a mental health perspective, due to links between
sleep and depression, female athletes may be more
vulnerable to depression and anxiety symptoms
(Stracciolini, McCracken, Milewski, & Meehan, 2019). In a
study of 465 athletes who competed on NCAA-sponsored
teams, nearly a third of the women in the study
demonstrated signs of depression compared to 18% of
men (Wolanin, Hong, Marks, Pancho, & Gross, 2016). Data
from NCAA surveys from 2008 and 2012 showed that 48%
of female collegiate athletes reported having depression
or anxiety symptoms (Brown, Hainline, Kroshus, &
Wilfert, 2014).
Female athletes are vulnerable to a medical condition
known as the Female Athlete Triad, which includes three
components: low energy availability (with or without
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disordered eating), menstrual dysfunction, and low
bone density. Female athletes who may train too hard
and/or have complicated relationships with food (e.g.,
restricting food intake and types of food, binge eating,
and/or purging) risk long-term issues with osteoporosis,
bone fractures, diminished physical performance, and
a range of psychological issues (depression, anxiety,
body dsymorphia, obsession with body size, food
anxiety, etc.) (American College of Obstetricians and
Gynecologist, 2017).
Research has shown over the years that female athletes
experience some sports injuries, including anterior
cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries and concussions, at higher
rates than male athletes. One study reported the sport of
women’s soccer had an ACL injury rate of 2.55 per 10,000
athlete-exposures (AE), which was substantially higher
than the men’s soccer rate of 0.63 per 10,000 AE. The
researchers found a comparable disparity in the sport
of basketball (1.95 per 10,000 AE for women versus 0.70
per 10,000 AE for men) (Stanley, Kerr, Dompier, & Padua,
2016). At the collegiate level, researchers examined the

through the NCAA Injury Surveillance Program. Between
2004-05 and 2008-09, there were 1,702 concussions
reported. Further analysis revealed that female athletes
had a 1.4 times higher overall concussion injury rate than
male athletes. Women’s baseball/softball, basketball,
ice hockey, and soccer had the greatest injury rates.
Additionally, when comparing female and male soccer

time loss after concussion (Covassin, Moran, & Elbin,
2016). Several things account for female athletes being
at greater risk for concussions in most sports, including
head-neck strength and the mechanism of injury
(Covassin, Bretzin, & Fox, 2019a). The limited knowledge

girls and women at greater risk and can hinder their
persistence in sport.
9. Careers on the Line: Confronting Workplace Bias and
Wage Gaps
While the U.S. National Women’s Soccer Team’s legal
battle with the U.S. Soccer Federation over equal pay
and equal treatment was arguably the most covered
equal pay dispute in women’s sport in 2019, women
athletes across professional leagues, including the
Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), and
women working in youth, college, and professional
sport face stark gender inequity in opportunity, pay, and
treatment. The juxtaposition of the increase of female
sport participation over time with the decrease in the
WSF Founder Billie Jean King
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representation of women in sport leadership positions
in some sectors of the industry (e.g., high school and
college athletic departments) and the slow integration
of workplaces in other sectors (e.g., professional men’s
sport leagues) is an enduring paradox of women working
in the sport industry. There has been an expectation that
as more girls and women moved into the playing ranks
that there would eventually be a proportional increase
in hiring women as coaches, administrators, and sport
executives, but this has not happened.
As the most recent Race and Gender Report cards from
the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport reveal,
women are underrepresented in positions of power or

team sports (Lapchick, 2019a; Lapchick, 2029b; Lapchick,
2019c; Lapchick, Estrella, & Gerhart, 2019). There has
been a precipitous decline in the number of female head
coaches in college women’s sports (43% in 2017 vs. 90%
in 1971) (Sabo, Veliz, & Staurowsky, 2016). Emblematic of
this problematic hiring and retention pattern, less than
a quarter (24%) of all head coaches at the college level
are women (NCAA, 2019a). And of the 9,365 NCAA head
coaches of men’s teams in 2016-17, only 465 were women
(5%). This pattern reveals how some of the most lucrative
and often prestigious leadership positions in sport, college

Women also hold a limited number of other leadership
positions in intercollegiate sport, including at the athletic
director level in NCAA Division I (11%), Division II (18%), and
Division III (31%). Nearly 80% of athletic directors running
college sports across all divisions (NCAA Division I, II, and
III) are men (NCAA, 2019a). Indicative of systemic gender
bias that negatively impacts women, Sabo, Veliz, and
Staurowsky (2016) found that about two-thirds (65%) of
current college coaches felt that it was easier for men to
get top-level coaching jobs.

to achieve gender equity among athletes, yet women in
leadership positions in international sport have not kept
pace. Women compose 29% of the International Olympic
Committee (IOC) membership (Lapchick, Davison, Grant,
& Quiarte, 2016). In the United States, Olympic and
Paralympic Committee representation of women stands
at 37.5% of all members (Houghton et al., 2018). In the
most recent data compiled internally by the Women’s
Sports Foundation in the summer of 2019, 33% (199 of 594)
of the positions available on the boards of U.S. national
governing bodies (NGBs) for summer teams were held
by women. Women also held 33% of the positions on
U.S. NGBs for winter sports (39 of 119). Of the 66 “main

Games, eight (12.1%) were female, seven of whom coached


positions (Houghton et al., 2018).
At its most basic, the health of the U.S. sport system
can be measured in the way it treats its women workers
occupying myriad roles as administrators, athletes,
coaches, entrepreneurs, executives, fundraisers,
marketers, members of the media, and owners. Although
the sport industry has met some major milestones in

diversify the workplace yielding increasing numbers of
women hired into top positions within professional sport
franchises, national sport governing bodies, and major

Most women are not impacted at the penultimate
point in their sport career, but instead the barriers and
challenges they face cause many to leave at multiple
points along their career paths, leading to a reduced

draw upon when senior level positions open (Hancock &
Hums, 2016). The glass ceiling can be evident at multiple
stages of a career progression, but it often is perceived
as an impenetrable barrier, causing women who have


The Female Leaders in Sport Survey respondents
reported gender bias in the workplace and a gender
dynamic that negatively impacted their productivity and
employment. An earlier study found that three-quarters
(75%) of female college coaches said that men had an
easier time negotiating salary increases, more than half
(54%) believed that men are more likely to be promoted,
to secure a multiyear contract upon hiring (52%), and
to be rewarded with salary increases for successful
performance (53%) (Sabo et al., 2016). Although progress
has been made, women are still a long way from fair
compensation and treatment.
10. Under the Radar: Fair Media Coverage
Remains Illusive
One of the longstanding trends in the research on
gender, sport, and media is the underrepresentation of


& Bruce, 2017). With minor exceptions during international
competitive events (what scholars term “sports

(Bell & Coche, 2018; Petty & Pope, 2019) and the Olympic
Games (Arth, Hou, Rush, & Angelini, 2018; Houghton et al.,
2018), as well as local news (Kaiser, 2018) or niche media
outlets (Wolter, 2015), the vast majority of sport media
coverage centers on men’s sports (Billings & Young, 2015;
Cooky, Messner, & Musto, 2015; Eagleman, Pedersen
& Wharton, 2009; Hull, 2017; Kane, LaVoi, & Fink, 2013;
Turner, 2014; Weber & Carini, 2013).
Longitudinal research examining the coverage of men’s
and women’s sports on televised news and highlight
shows has found that the coverage of women’s sports has
actually declined over the 25-year time period (1989-2014)
Women’s Sports Foundation
WomensSportsFoundation.org
Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and
Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women
13
with only 3.2% of coverage devoted to women’s sports in
2014 (Cooky et al., 2015). According to that same study,
ESPN’s SportsCenter devoted 1.3-2.2% of its coverage to
women’s sports during a 15-year time period (1999-2014).
Recent research examining online and social media also
indicate similar trends in coverage, with the majority
of content devoted to male athletes and men’s sports.
For example, a recent study examined 1,587 Instagram
images from the primary accounts of the four major
American sports networks and found women’s coverage

The researchers also noted how sportswomen are more
likely to appear alongside their male counterparts in

(Romney & Johnson, 2019). Sports media coverage often
minimizes sportswomen’s athleticism (Kian & Clavio, 2011)
and represents women and female athletes as sexual
objects (Messner & Montez de Oca, 2005; Kane, 2011;
Kim & Sagas, 2014). Moreover, men’s sports are often
produced in more visually exciting ways through the use of
more camera angles, diversity of shot types, and the use

2009; Cooky et al., 2015).
Studies increasingly include an intersectional perspective

and representation of sportswomen is shaped by racial
identities and other social locations. For example, media

patterns in terms of less coverage being devoted to
female athletes, so, due to the negligible coverage of
athletes with disabilities in general, female athletes with
disabilities are rendered nearly invisible by the press
(Rees, Robinson, & Shields, 2019). Scholars have noted
hypersexual racialized portrayals of sportswomen of color
(Shultz, 2005; Cooky, Wachs, Messner, & Dworkin, 2010),
and sportswomen of color competing in the Olympic
Games were more likely to experience racist and sexist
microaggressions in the media when compared to their
White counterparts (Frisby, 2017).
There are a number of factors to explain the above trends
in the coverage of women’s sports. Certainly, hegemonic
masculinity embedded in sports and sports cultures, as
well as sexism, play a role (Fink, 2015a; Bruce 2015). In
addition, scholars and women’s sports advocates have
suggested the lack of women in journalist, broadcaster,
and commentator roles in sports media as well as the
lack of women in decision-making positions or leadership
positions within sports media may help to explain the
continued dominance of coverage of men’s sports (Cooky

2017). According to a recent report, the 75 newspapers
and websites examined all received an F for gender hiring
practices. The report found 90% of sports editors, 69.9% of
sports assistant sports editors, 83.4% of columnists, 88.5%
of reporters, and 79.6% of copy editors/designers were
men (and the vast majority, White men) (Lapchick, 2018).

problem given that once women are hired, they often
leave the industry in what’s been termed a “revolving

working cultures of sports media outlets, which still tend

proportions of women and men employees) as well as the
harassment women in sports media professions encounter
(Antunovic, 2018). Without fair media coverage of women’s
sports, role models are invisible and girls and women may
conclude there is little cultural value assigned to their
participation in sports.
Conclusion
As we approach the 50th anniversary of Title IX’s passage,
there is no better time for girls and women to participate
and work in sport in the United States. The triumphs of
U.S. women athletes around the world who represent the

proof of the heights to which women can achieve when

real impact those women’s achievements have on the
aspirations of future generations. Progress, however,
cannot be met with complacency because the data
are clear. For all of the progress that has been made in
advancing the interests of girls and women in the U.S.
sport system, women athletes and women sport leaders
are still confronted with challenges that impede their full
and fair access to play, compete, and work; contribute
to work and play environments that are unwelcoming;
and leave girls and women too often chasing equity. This
report does not present merely a statement of problems,
but also provides readily implementable and accessible
calls to action that athletes, citizens, coaches, change
makers, game changers, members of the media, parents,
public policy makers, and sport executives can adopt and
move forward so that we can get beyond girls and women
in sport chasing equity to simply chasing their dreams.
There is much that can be done to address the myriad

calls to action to increase and improve sport participation
opportunities for girls and women; to break down barriers
that prevent girls and women from participating fully
in sport, especially girls and women from marginalized
groups; to improve and enhance Title IX compliance at the
high school and college levels; to address equal treatment
in sport workplaces and continue to promote women in
sport leadership roles; and to increase media coverage of
women’s sport.
Women’s Sports Foundation
WomensSportsFoundation.org
Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and
Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women
14
During the summer of 2019, the harvest from the seeds of
women’s empowerment sown in the United States sport
system nearly 50 years earlier with the passage of Title IX
of the Education Amendments of 1972 was on full display
for the world to see. The U.S. Women’s National Soccer
Team (USWNT) was chasing its fourth Women’s World Cup
title in decisive fashion in Lyon, France. That same weekend,
the U.S. Softball Team put in a gold-medal-winning
performance at the USA International Softball Cup, and
the U.S. Women’s Volleyball Team won the FIVB Nations
League Championship (Andrejev, 2019). Tennis star Serena


while pairing with Scottish player Andy Murray in mixed
doubles. The University of California at Los Angeles
women’s softball team won their 12th Women’s College
World Series title. And U.S. women’s gymnast Simone

in history to land a double-twisting, double-somersault

Gymnastics Championship, in the process winning her
sixth national championship (Asmelash & Muaddi, 2019).
She followed this by extending her record-setting world
medal total to 24 (Clarke, 2019).
Along the way, records were set not just in terms of team
and individual athlete performances but also in economic
and cultural impact. Inspiring a boost in Nike team
apparel sales, USWNT home soccer jerseys outpaced
sales for men’s jerseys (Mello, 2019). According to an

U.S. Soccer national team jersey, men’s or women’s, of
all time, with sales more than 500% greater this year

(VanHaaren, 2019). In 2019, across 17 games, including
the Women’s World Cup championship game against
the Netherlands, the team drew an average audience of
2,706,412 per game (Dockery, 2019).1 Just under 14 million

2019). Worldwide, a record 1.12 billion viewers tuned into
the tournament.
In turn, long-time tennis analyst Pam Shriver considered
the pairing of Williams and Murray as the “most

(Maine, 2019). And according to Sports Media Watch,

between UCLA and Oklahoma was the fourth most-
watched baseball or softball game on cable television,
only falling behind Sunday Night Baseball games
1 The 17 games noted here were broadcast on one of these
channels: ESPN2, Fox Sports 1 (F1), or FOX.
featuring Major League Baseball (MLB) teams the Red
Sox and Yankees; Atlanta and Philadelphia; and the
Cardinals and Cubs (Paulsen, 2019).
Even as U.S. women athletes shone on the world stage,
the spotlight focused not only on their accomplishments
but also on the barriers that they faced as they ascended
to the best in the world. While the USWNT battled on

World Cup, prevailing over Netherlands to win their
fourth championship and second in a row, they were
battling their own federation at home over equal pay
and other equal employment issues. This stark reality
prompted 50 members of the U.S. Congress to write
to the U.S. Federation expressing disapproval for
indefensible treatment of the USWNT and demanding
that a plan be implemented to address the lack of
parity between the men’s and women’s teams (Spier,
Frankel, Lawrence, Escobar, & Haaland, 2019). And
they were not alone. American middle distance runner
Alysia Montano (2019), a gold medalist in both the World
Relay Championships and the Pan Am Games in 2015,
brought attention to the fact that companies like Nike
and Burton, key sponsors of elite female athletes, had a
policy of reducing pay if female athletes got pregnant
and made no provisions for female athletes dealing
with pregnancy, childbirth, and maternity issues. In

they had adopted a new policy regarding support for
pregnant athletes and that the terms of that policy
would be written into new endorsement agreements with
female athletes (Safdar, 2019). All of that was happening
under the dark shadow cast by the failures of U.S. sport
federations, college athletic programs, youth sport
organizations, and sport media companies to protect
female athletes and female employees from sexual
assault and harassment and to respond empathetically
and appropriately when sexual violence against girls and
women occurred (Cook, 2018b; Guinee, 2019; North, 2019;
Tracy, 2019).


participation for girls and women; barriers that limit and/
or hinder participation; Title IX and athletics enforcement;
and women working in the sport industry and sport media.
Each part of the report has been organized into two or
three sections: an overview and sampling of selected

appropriate; and a list of recommended calls to action.
Full Report Introduction
Women’s Sports Foundation
WomensSportsFoundation.org
Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and
Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women
15
The purpose of this report is to present an overview of the
status of girls and women in sport in the United States and
perceptions of women leaders of women’s sport, including
areas of progress and barriers to success. The information
presented in this report draws upon both primary and
secondary sources. A team of nine researchers conducted
an extensive literature review of 453 research studies,
reports from sport governing bodies and public policy

and universities in accordance with the Equity in Disclosure
Act (EADA); selected lawsuits; and media reports primarily
spanning the time period between 2014-19 with the goal of
identifying, gathering, analyzing, and reporting facts and

sport in the United States. The result is this compendium,
which focuses on sport participation opportunities for girls

and women; barriers that limit and/or hinder participation,
as well as critical health and safety concerns; Title IX and
its ongoing role in supporting the infrastructure for equal
access to sport participation for girls and women; the
representation of women working in the sport industry and
the climate they encounter while working in sport, including
pay equity and equal treatment issues; and the level and
quality of sport media coverage of female athletes and the
representation of women working in sport media.

on the landscape for U.S. girls and women in sports, probe
the impact of persistent barriers to progress and identify
steps to be taken to move beyond those barriers, the
primary research component of this study was a survey of
female leaders in women’s sports in the United States. The
concept for the survey was initially advised by the work
of O’Reilly, Brunette, and Bradish (2018). The 31-question
survey (See Appendix on page 71), organized into four
sections (demographics, barriers and opportunities in
areas of sport participation, barriers and opportunities for
women sport leaders, and open-ended questions inviting

Calls to Action) was reviewed by members of a Women’s
Sports Foundation expert panel (N=24), and the survey
was approved for distribution by the Drexel University
Institutional Review Board (IRB).
Using the online data collection platform of Qualtrics,
the survey was administered using a snowball sampling
method. Through the Women’s Sports Foundation’s
relationships, U.S. women leaders of women’s sports
were contacted through academic associations, national
sport governing bodies, professional sport organizations,
and youth sport organizations as well as on social media
platforms. The data collected through the survey were
subjected to quantitative and qualitative analyses.
The 2,356 U.S. female sport leaders who responded to
the survey served in these roles: head coaches (25.62%),
director/manager/assistant-associate athletic directors
(23.05%), executives, owners, or senior athletic directors
(11.11%), academic/researchers (9.72%), assistant or
associate coaches (7.81%), board members (4.23%),
journalists (4.65%), and sports medicine professionals
(3.47%). Approximately 10% of respondents held other
positions. The vast majority of respondents came from
the college level (49.08%). The remainder came from
these sectors: youth sport (14.52%), high school (13.40%),
professional (7.85%), elite/amateur/Olympics (6.3%), and
city/recreational league (5.24%) and other (3.61%). The
average age of the women sport leaders who responded
to the survey was 45 years of age, and, on average, they
had been working or volunteering in sport for at least
10 years. The racial composition of the group of women
leaders responding to the survey was primarily White
(82.81%) followed by Black or African American (7.28%),
Hispanic or Latina (4.15%), Mixed Race (1.89%), Asian
(1.56%), American Indian or Alaska Native (.66%), and
Native Hawaiian (.37%) and other (.29). Just under one
percent of respondents did not wish to indicate their race.2
The responses from these U.S. women sport leaders were
used in two ways within the report. They were used to

the literature review and to provide depth and dimension to
the recommended calls to actions proposed in the report.
2 Because the survey was distributed through multiple
channels (email distribution as well as on social media),
it is difficult to accurately determine a response rate for
each group.
“I am a product of a lifetime
of competitive athletics and I
can honestly and truly say that
athletics changed my life and
gave me purpose...which I have
now translated into a career!”
— Respondent, Female Leaders in
Sport Survey
Purpose, Design & Method
Women’s Sports Foundation
WomensSportsFoundation.org
Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and
Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women
16
A. Participation Opportunities for Girls and
Women in the U.S.
Whether in mixed-sex teams or all-girl environments,
girls seek places to explore their passion for playing,
learning new sports, engaging in competition, and feeling
the camaraderie that comes from being a member of a
team. The WSF report Coaching Through a Gender Lens:
Maximizing Girls Play and Potential (Zarrett, Cooky, &

goals and challenges to strive for and who created
positive environments where girls felt supported by the
coach and each other fueled girls’ enthusiasm for the
sports they played.
Some research continues to show that all-female sport
environments can facilitate higher levels of comfort, raise

activity participation when compared to mixed-gender
environments (Bean, Forneris, & Fortier, 2015). However,
the mythology that girls can only thrive in single-sex sport
environments has been debunked as growing numbers
of girls and boys over generations have played together
on T-ball teams, at soccer camps, in physical education
classes, and in other settings (Channon et al., 2016;
Eldred, 2019).

for boys and girls to play in communities where there
isn’t enough support for sex-segregated teams.
Sex-integrated teams also represent expanded sport
opportunities for female athletes. Those who support
mixed-sex teams argue that such environments hold the
potential to foster mutual respect, more appreciation,
and greater understanding (Channon et al., 2016;
Eldred, 2019). Mixed-sex teams also have the potential
and capability of providing a showcase to demonstrate
that female athletes are the equal of male athletes. As
Goldschmied and Kowalcxyk (2014) found after looking
at seven years of data about female and male athletes in


in performance between those athletes on the basis

sport, Hall and Oglesby (2016) recommended that it was
time to “think anew about sex-segregated competition

Girls enjoy participation opportunities at all levels from
grassroots and youth sport to professional sport in the
U.S. While there is much more work to be done, progress
has been made in fostering more inclusive sport spaces
for girls from marginalized groups in some sectors of
the industry. According to female sport leaders in our
survey for this report, the climate for immigrant girls; girls
of color; girls with disabilities; lesbian, gay, bi-sexual,
transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) girls; and gender non-
conforming girls has gotten better or much better from
10 years ago in some areas (see table below for details),
but there are also pockets where climates have remained
what they were and in some cases, gotten worse. Overall,

what scholar Vikki Krane (2019), who has studied LGBTQ
issues in sport for decades recently wrote, “...there is
evidence in today’s sport culture that there are highly
inclusive climates, highly prejudicial climates, and a

for details).
Although many sport opportunities coincide with
educational experiences, the emphasis placed on
participation in physical activity outside the school setting

school-based sport participation.3 From the grassroots to
professional levels of sport, girls and women in the United
States are taking advantage of sport opportunities and
pursuing passions with the ability to strive for and attain
professional careers.
3 Sport participation opportunities should be understood as
opportunities only, and not a true measure of the number of
female athletes because a female athlete may participate in
more than one sport opportunity.
Part 1. Sport Participation for Girls & Women in the U.S.
“When someone says ‘you play
like a girl,’ ask them ‘which one?’”
— U.S. Women’s Soccer player
Mallory Pugh
Women’s Sports Foundation
WomensSportsFoundation.org
Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and
Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women
17
“We work with girls in
underserved neighborhoods and
many have decided very young,
that they are not athletes. Early
exposure and participation
is critical!”
— Respondent, Female Leaders in
Sport Survey
Grassroots/Youth Sport Participation Opportunities
Children across the United States participate in an

school-based, community-based, church-based, and

2008). Youth sport is considered to be so large currently in

2013). No single governing body, agency, or organization
monitors youth sport in the U.S., leaving governance up

to set standards, collect data, and make decisions on

measure due to breadth and rapid growth, according to
Sport & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) data shared
with The Aspen Institute (2018), 56.5% of children aged
Table 2: WSF Female Leaders in Sport Survey:
Assessing How the Climate for Girls from Marginalized Groups Has Changed in School Sports

that the climate is improving. The breakdown of women sport leaders who thought the climate for girls from
marginalized groups was better or much better than 10 years ago was as follows:
For immigrant girls - 41%
For girls of color - 62%
For girls with disabilities - 49%
For LGBTQ girls - 61%
For gender non-conforming girls - 35%

construed to mean that the climate is as inclusive and open to girls of all backgrounds as it needs to be. Many
women sport leaders thought the climate for girls from marginalized groups had not changed in 10 years:
For immigrant girls - 35%
For girls of color - 29%
For girls with disabilities - 45%
For LGBTQ girls - 30%
For gender non-conforming girls - 43%
There were also women sport leaders who believed the climate for marginalized girls had gotten worse or much
worse over the past 10 years:
For immigrant girls – 24%
For girls of color – 10%
For girls with disabilities – 7%
For LGBTQ girls – 9%
For gender non-conforming girls – 21%
Note: Due to rounding, gures may not add up to 100%.
From Staurowsky et al., 2020. Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women.
Women’s Sports Foundation
WomensSportsFoundation.org
Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and
Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women
18
6 to 12 years participated in or played a team sport at
least one time during 2014. Girls participate not only
in traditional youth sports like AAU basketball or AYSO
soccer programs but also in sport programs that combine
sports with positive youth development lessons (e.g., Girls
on the Run) (Gruno et al., 2018).
As a general trend, between the ages of 6 to 10, girls’
participation in sport lags behind that of boys by 10
percentage points (The Aspen Institute, 2018).
According to a report from the Aspen Institute (2019),
both boys and girls between the ages of 6 to 12
engaged less in regular sport participation in 2018
than they had six years earlier. However, even as
the participation rates for boys and girls declined,
girls’ participation (31.4%) trailed that of boys (38.4%)
by 7.3%.4
While girls lag behind boys in sport participation
in the early years before puberty, for girls who do
participate, they love to play and compete. In a
study of 1,129 girls ages 7 to 13 years, 93% of girls
who participate in sports like or love to play and
three-quarters of girls who love to play plan to play in
high school and beyond (Zarrett et al., 2019).
At its highest rate in six years, 56.5% of children aged
6 to 12 years played a team sport in some form at
least one time during 2017. Since 2015, participation
rates of children have grown in baseball, basketball,

swimming, and wrestling. Since 2016, participation

while declining in the sport of soccer.5 In 2017, 52.3%
of girls aged 6 to 12 participated in at least one team
sport during the year compared to 61.9% of boys (The
Aspen Institute, 2018).
In the United States, soccer and volleyball have

increases in adolescent girls’ sport participation.
Fueled by well-established sport club systems, soccer
and volleyball have experienced growth in club
participation (King, 2017b) due to organizational
decisions and policies such as coach accreditations
and mandatory background checks of adults working
in the sport (USA Volleyball, n.d.).
4 The data reported by the Aspen Institute in 2019 came
from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) survey
in 2018.
5 The decline in participation in soccer has been attributed to
a change in policy that altered the criteria used for organizing
youth level teams from grade level to birth date. This switch
disrupted children’s preference groups, making the experience
less fun for them. According to the Aspen Institute, the sport of
soccer is heavily reliant on a pay for play financial structure,
which works to exclude children from minority groups and
lower socioeconomic backgrounds (The Aspen Institute, 2018).
In 2018, the NBA established the Jr. NBA Global
Championship, a youth basketball tournament for the
top 13- and 14-year-old boys’ and girls’ teams from
around the world (Jr. NBA, n.d.). The Jr. NBA Global
Championship system promotes teamwork, respect,
determination, and community as its core values
to promote positive and healthy youth basketball
experiences through age-appropriate limits on
participation, required rest, trained and licensed
coaches, and life skills programming (Jr. NBA, n.d.).
In the summer of 2019, the WNBA/Jr. NBA partnered
with the Women’s Sports Foundation, Women’s
Basketball Coaches Association, USA Basketball, the
Girls and Boys Clubs of America, and the YMCA to
launch a program called Her Time to Play, “a national
grassroots initiative created by the WNBA and NBA
to inspire the next generation of U.S. girls, ages 7-14,

(WNBA/Jr. NBA Her Time to Play, 2019).
Girls on the Run, an after-school program for girls

activity through a positive youth development
program grounded in curriculum. This program,
along with other positive youth development
programs for girls, supports social interactions

abilities with reduced emphasis on appearance
(Ullrich-French, Cole, & Montgomery, 2016). Girls
on the Run has served more than 1.6 million girls
since 1996.
Certain sports have exponentially increased sport
participation opportunities for girls in the United
States in the past decade. According to the US
Lacrosse Annual Participation Survey, youth girls’
Citywide Aquatics, New York City Department of
Parks & Recreation
Women’s Sports Foundation
WomensSportsFoundation.org
Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and
Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women
19
participation increased from 96,446 in 2008 to
163,823 in 2018, an increase of 69.9% (US Lacrosse,
2017). AAU Volleyball has over 100,000 participants,

Volleyball Coaches Association, 2015).
At-risk middle school girls aged 11 to 14 years

self-esteem, living a sedentary lifestyle, and/or were
overweight participated in an after-school triathlon
program consisting of self-esteem building lessons,
nutrition, and health science along with triathlon and

goal setting, motivation, and academic achievement
(Gatz & Kelly, 2018). Participants in the study learned
to self-regulate their learning through after-school
sport participation.
The sports attrition rate for urban and rural girls is
two to three times greater than for boys from similar
areas (Sabo & Veliz, 2008).
Girls of color, girls of lower socioeconomic status,
and girls in urban and rural areas often enter sports
later, participate in lower numbers, and drop out
earlier than White girls, suburban girls, and girls
from higher socioeconomic status. For example, the
drop-out rate for girls of color in urban centers is
twice that of suburban White girls, and about half of
African American parents (51%) and Hispanic parents


24% of girls in urban areas dropped out, while 13% of
girls from rural areas and 6% of girls from suburban
areas dropped out by this age (Sabo & Veliz, 2008).
In a comparison between White and African American
girls, White girls were found to be three times more
likely to be involved in sport through a private
organization (21% to 7%). African American girls were

schools (65%, compared to 50%) (Graves et al., 2014).
Nontraditional forms of physical activity have been

girls who might not otherwise participate. For
example, it has been found that physical activity that
draws upon cultural dance forms provides additional
avenues for girls of color. One innovative program,
danceLogic, integrates computer programming and
dance and is designed to engage 13- to 17-year-old
African American girls from inner city Philadelphia.
This program takes elements from hip hop
choreography – numbers, patterns, and creativity
– and introduces math and technology through that
medium (Duncan, 2019).
Among children with disabilities, 62% of boys have a
high interest in playing sports, compared to 40% of
the girls (Sabo & Veliz, 2008).
High School Sport Participation Opportunities
“Title IX is being eroded. Schools
have too many years to ‘improve’
but not correct.
— Respondent, Female Leaders in
Sport Survey
According to the National Federation of State High School
Associations (NFHS), for 29 consecutive years, girls’
high school sport participation had been on an upward
trajectory, with 3,415,306 girls playing on high school
teams in 2017-18. However, in 2018-19 girls’ participation
declined by 11,573 opportunities (NFHS, 2019). Boys’
participation also declined by 30,822. Said another way,
girls have 42.9% of all high school sports opportunities

narrowed in the past 20 years (Zarrett, Veliz, & Sabo,
2018). Annually, boys receive more than 1.13 million

volleyball, basketball, soccer, and softball (fastpitch) are

with emerging sports of lacrosse and bowling seeing
large increases in participants over the past decade
(NFHS, 2019).
The gap in sports participation in school-based
programs declined between 1999 and 2004 but
started to expand again between 2004 and 2013. In
2017, the sport participation gap had narrowed to
4% among eighth graders but is the largest at 14%
among 12th graders (Meier et al., 2018).

impacts girls’ sport participation. According to a
study examining the high school sports choices of
girls in New Hampshire and Vermont, girls played

variety of options from which to choose. A shift away

a larger variety of more inclusive, non-traditional
sports may attract girls not already participating
to new sport opportunities (Drake et al., 2014). A
study evaluating high school sport participation
in Minnesota reported girls’ sport participation
in swimming and diving, basketball, and golf are

country, and soccer are trending up (Kaul, 2018).
A study evaluating the sport team participation rates
of high school girls revealed 53% of U.S. high school
girls participated in a team sport in 2015. White,
non-Hispanic girls participated at a rate of 60.7%,
compared to 47.7% of non-Hispanic Black girls,
Women’s Sports Foundation
WomensSportsFoundation.org
Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and
Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women
20
40.7% of Hispanic and 35.6% of Asian high school
girls. Additionally, girls with normal weight status
participated at a rate of 58.1%, compared to 50.0%
of overweight and 36.5% of obese high school girls
(Simon & Uddin, 2018).
Because of the vast gaps in resources available
in typical heavily minority high schools (less than
10% White enrollment), both girls and boys of color
have access to far fewer athletic participation
opportunities than students attending typical heavily
White high schools (90% White enrollment) (National
Women’s Law Center, 2015b). Comparing the gaps
in opportunities available to female athletes, 49%
of typical heavily minority high schools have large
shortfalls in athletic opportunities compared to 16% of
typical heavily White high schools.
Pronounced sport participation attrition among teen
athletes across elementary and secondary education
occurs in the U.S. and tends to be more noticeable
among girls, racial and ethnic minorities, and
adolescents from low socioeconomic backgrounds
(Sabo & Veliz, 2008; Sabo & Veliz, 2014). The attrition
rates for girls between eighth grade and 12th grade
in all sports are two to three times higher than those
for boys. In basketball, for example, the attrition rates
are -64% for girls and -36% for boys. The respective
rates in lacrosse are -42% and -13%, and for soccer
are -53% and -31% (Sabo & Veliz, 2014).
Girls’ high school sport participation rates vary by
state, with Minnesota (49%), Pennsylvania (47.1%), and
Maine (46.6%) leading in percentage rates of female
high school students participating in sport. Alabama
(35%), Tennessee (36.8%), and South Carolina
(37.6%) have the lowest percentage rates of female
high school students participating in sport (Cook,
2019). Girls’ sport participation rates vary by sport in

participation rate in the U.S., 12%, is in Oklahoma,
home of the NCAA Women’s College Softball World
Series (King, 2017a).
In a study of the state of high school sports (Veliz,


that development, participation rates were still
higher for male athletes (52.3%) compared to female
athletes (43.6%) during the 2015-16 academic year.
Lacrosse has been the fastest-growing high school
sport in the United States for the past 20 years,
including gains for both boys’ and girls’ high school
lacrosse participation opportunities of 80% between
2007-2017 (US Lacrosse, 2017). According to NFHS
data (2018), from 2012 to 2018, 663 high schools
across the country added girls’ lacrosse programs, an
increase of 31.3%.
Using data from the Monitoring the Future (MTF)
survey, a federally funded longitudinal study of
American students in secondary schools, teens

participation when they played two or more sports.
Boys were more likely than girls to play two or more
sports (47% v. 29%) Among this population, 39% of
girls and 25% of boys were not involved in playing any
sport (Zarrett, Veliz, & Sabo, 2018).
In a study by the Human Rights Campaign (2017),
while 68% of high school students participated in
sport, LGBTQ girls participated at a rate of 29%. The
rate was 12% for transgender girls.
In a study conducted by GLSEN, an organization that
works to eradicate discrimination against lesbian,
gay, bi-sexual, transgender, and queer students
(LGBTQ) in kindergarten through high school, four-
in-10 LGBT students avoided locker rooms because


School Climate Survey, where a third of the LGBT
students responded that they felt unsafe in school
locker rooms (Krane, 2019). Nearly a quarter of LGBT
students reported staying away from athletic facilities


do not disclose to their coach or coaches (Human
Rights Campaign, 2017). Eighty-two percent of
transgender and gender expansive youths are not out
to their coaches (Human Rights Campaign, 2017).

many transgender girls choose to participate in
school-based sport programs, the Trevor Project
reports that 1.8% of high school students are

survey of mental health issues facing LGBTQ students
released in 2019, 58% of transgender and non-binary
youth reported being discouraged from using
bathrooms that matched their gender identity.


the early 2000s indicating that 37% of elementary
students in grades 1 through 7 with disabilities and 41%
of high school students with disabilities participated
in some form of sport, but it was unclear if programs

gender perspective, boys with disabilities consistently
participated in sport at higher rates than girls with
disabilities. The GAO also noted that there were no
national data that would allow reliable comparisons
between students with and without disabilities.
According to the NFHS (2019), of the 15,571 high
school students who participated in adaptive sport
activities during the 2018-19 academic year, 44% were
female students (6,960).
Women’s Sports Foundation
WomensSportsFoundation.org
Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and
Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women
21

other intercollegiate governing bodies, the National
Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and
National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA), also

to women in a variety of sports.
Across all three NCAA Divisions, 74,239 total women
participated in 24 collegiate sports during the 1981-
82 season. Basketball had the most participants at

9,217 and volleyball with 8,418. During the 2017-18
season, 36 years later, the NCAA saw 216,378 women
participate across all three Divisions, up 291% from
1981-82 (U.S. Department of Education, 2019).

was the greatest participation, with 30,018 women
participating during the 2017-18 season, followed by

27,811. Basketball, although almost doubling in total

29 NCAA-sponsored sports, likely due to roster size
restrictions (NCAA, 2018a).
Women’s NCAA-sponsored teams have outnumbered
men’s teams since the 1996-97 season. Today, the
NCAA sponsors 10,586 women’s teams, or 54% of
College Sport Participation Opportunities
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is the
leading intercollegiate athletics sport governing body in
the United States. According to the NCAA, its governance

“My current institution still lags
in several areas of equity, and I
think having more of an external
accountability (such as a Title IX
review every 3 years) would
do wonders for us; it is hard
to be a lone voice lobbying for
change when the culture is so set
in stone.
— Respondent, Female Leaders in
Sport Survey
Scout Bassett, Track & Field, WSF Travel & Training Fund recipient
Women’s Sports Foundation
WomensSportsFoundation.org
Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and
Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women
22
NCAA teams, across all three Divisions compared
to 9,159 men’s teams, or 46% of NCAA teams
(Schwarb, 2018).
The types of sport the NCAA has sponsored over
time has changed with popularity, growth, and
decline in the United States. In the past 30 seasons,
from 1988-89 to 2017-18, across all three Divisions,
the NCAA has seen 260 women’s golf, 257 women’s
tennis, 255 women’s indoor track, 253 women’s cross
country, and 202 women’s outdoor track programs be
cut (NCAA, 2018a).
Over the same time period, however, the NCAA has
added sponsorship to 742 women’s golf, 699 women’s
soccer, 604 women’s indoor track, 527 women’s
cross country, 499 women’s outdoor track, and
425 women’s lacrosse member programs. From its
initial sponsorship of the sport in 2011-12 to 2017-18,
the NCAA has added 53 women’s beach volleyball
member programs. Over the same time period,
the NCAA has not sponsored a single new women’s
archery or badminton team across all three Divisions
(NCAA, 2018a).
Approximately 96% of NCAA-member institutions
sponsor women’s volleyball, falling second to
women’s basketball, which boasts a 99% sponsorship
rate across NCAA-member institutions (American
Volleyball Coaches Association, 2015).
Of the 214,623 women participating on teams at
NCAA member institutions across all three divisions
in 2017-18, 69% were White, 11% were Black, and 20%
were listed in a category referred to as Female Other
(Asian-American, Native American, mixed race, etc.)
(NCAA, 2019a).
In 2017-18, NCAA sports with the highest participation
rates for Black female athletes were women’s
basketball (31%), women’s bowling (23%), and
women’s indoor and outdoor track (21%). While
there was racial and ethnic diversity among female
athletes participating in the sports of ice hockey and
skiing, with approximately 20% being women of color

American, and other, there were no Black female
athletes who participated in the sports of ice hockey
and skiing (NCAA, 2019a).
The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics
(NAIA) is another national sport governing body
that hosts collegiate championships for four-year

74,049 athletic participation opportunities, with
63% available to male athletes (N=44,098) and only
37% available to female athletes (N=30,947) (U.S.
Department of Education, 2018).

by 463 schools that are members of the National
Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) in 2017-18,
female athletes received 38% (N=22,249) and male
athletes received 62% (N=36,016) (U.S. Department of
Education, 2018).
The NJCAA has increased in size and opportunities

athletics. The NJCAA sponsored 18,267 female athletes
competing on 1,522 teams in 13 sports in 2005-06.
During the 2016-17 season, the NJCAA sponsored
22,785 female student-athletes competing on 1,699
teams in 13 sports, an increase of 4,518 female athlete
opportunities and 177 new teams in 11 years (National
Junior College Athletic Association, n.d.).
Among the 33 community colleges and two-year
institutions that comprise the Northwestern
Collegiate Athletic Conference (NWCA), 47% of
athletic opportunities (N=1,803) are provided to

athletes (N=2,509) (U.S. Department of Education,
2018). In contrast, the 107 members of the California
Community College Athletic Association (CCAAA)

female athletes and 63% to male athletes (N=15,687).
Elite/Professional Sport Participation Opportunities
Professional sport opportunities for women in the United
States have evolved through successes and hardships
over the past several decades. For example, the National
Women’s Football League was formed in 1974 and
dissolved in 1985 (Ginstling, 1995). Women’s Professional
Soccer and the Women’s United Soccer Association
both preceded the National Women’s Soccer League
(NWSL) and both failed before either reached its fourth
season in existence (Pingue, 2018). As major professional
sports leagues for women are still in stages of infancy,
the success at the onset of women’s professional sport
leagues in the United States often relies upon the


sport leagues.
The future may be brighter for women’s participation in
the Olympic Games. Following recommendations made
“The conversation is no longer
about should we have equal
pay or should we be supporting
women. It’s how do we support
women and really move forward.
— Megan Rapinoe, 2019 Women’s World
Cup MVP
Women’s Sports Foundation
WomensSportsFoundation.org
Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and
Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women
23
in 2018, the International Olympic Committee (IOC)
published a report called the IOC Gender Equality Review
Project. According to the document, its purpose was to

related to enhancing gender equality within the Olympic
movement (IOC, 2018). The report recommended that
for team sports there be an equal number of teams per
gender. Similarly, in individual events, the report advised
that the participation opportunities for women and men
should be equal for the event or discipline. The sport
theme also included reviewing competition format and

coaches, venues and facilities, schedule, medical care,
safeguarding athletes from harassment and abuse, and
helping female athletes transition out of sport and into
other opportunities (Houghton et al., 2018).
The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA),
the longest-running women’s professional team sport
league in the world, celebrated its 22nd consecutive

to improve community engagement and connection
with fans through collaboration and empowerment
(Borders, 2018).
The WNBA holds a place of distinction among all
other professional leagues by being the most diverse
workplace among other professional leagues. Women
of color composed 84.3% of all players in the WNBA in
2018 (Lapchick, 2018).
The WNBA is an elite league, as rosters are capped at
12 spots available to each of the 12 WNBA teams each
season (WNBA, 2019) while the 30 NBA rosters are
capped at 15 (NBA, 2019), placing the odds of draft-
eligible NCAA athletes being drafted at 0.9 percent,
lower than the National Basketball Association (NBA)
(1.2%), Major League Soccer (MLS) (1.4%), National
Football League (NFL) (1.6%), National Hockey League
(NHL) (6.4%) and Major League Baseball (MLB) (9.5%)
(Horowitz, 2018).

partner of Major League Baseball, began as a
professional softball league in the U.S. in 2004 (Berri,
2018). NPF consists of six teams playing a 50-game
schedule throughout the summer and, as of 2019,
is entering its 15th season. In 2016, NPF’s Scrap
Yard Dawgs signed star pitcher Monica Abbott to a

contract in the history of NPF (Hays, 2016). In 2017,
NPF increased its roster size limit from 23 to 26 (156
players), with 23 active players available to each
team per game (Sievers, 2017). The 30 Major League
Baseball regular-season rosters are limited to 25
players for a total of 750 players (MLB, 2019).
The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) formed
in 2012, comprises nine teams featuring national
team players from around the world and is supported
by the Canadian Soccer Association and the U.S.
Soccer Federation (National Women’s Soccer League,
n.d.a). Salaries of allocated players in the NWSL are
paid by both the Canadian Soccer Association and
the U.S. Soccer Federation (Pingue, 2018). NWSL
teams are required to have a minimum of 18 and a
maximum of 20 players during the regular season
(National Women’s Soccer League, n.d.b), providing
professional soccer opportunities in the United States
for 162 to 180 women annually.
The 2019 U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team won
its second consecutive Women’s World Cup and its
fourth overall. The team dominated the competition,
never losing a match and outscoring opponents 26-3
(Dockery, 2019).
At the direction of FIFA, the governing body for the
sport of soccer (futbol) worldwide, the Women’s World
Cup will be expanded from 24 to 32 teams by 2023.
When the Women’s World Cup started in 1991, there
were 12 teams. By 1999, there were 16, and there were
24 by 2015. As the Women’s World Cup has increased
the number of teams playing so too has the Men’s

teams in 2026 (ESPN, 2019).
The International Federation of Women’s Lacrosse
Associations (IFWLA) has sponsored women’s world
championships since 1982. The U.S. has dominated
international competition, winning the Women’s
Senior World Lacrosse Championship in 2017 (US
Lacrosse, 2017).
Although there is not a professional women’s
volleyball league in the United States, many U.S.
Women’s Volleyball National Team members compete
in professional leagues around the globe such as
the European Championships Leagues and Japan V
League (USA Volleyball, 2019). For the 2018-19 season,
reported as of February 1, 2019, 440 international

processed by USA Volleyball. Female professional
volleyball players competed on teams from 38

By the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero, 45% of
the participating athletes were women. The number
of women’s events and sports in the Olympic Games
has increased over time, bringing the total to 136
women’s events, compared to 161 for men. There were
nine mixed events. There were 5,059 female athletes,
an all-time high, and 6,178 male athletes for a total of
11,237 participants (Houghton et al., 2017).
The representation of American women in the
2016 Olympic Games was unprecedented with the
U.S. delegation of 292 women being the largest in
Olympic history. Not only was their presence at the
Games impressive, but so too was their performance,
accounting for more than half of the nation’s total
Women’s Sports Foundation
WomensSportsFoundation.org
Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and
Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women
24
medals (61 of 121) and 27 of the 46 gold medals
(Houghton et al., 2017).
Women have far fewer participation opportunities
than men in the Paralympic Games. The 2016
Paralympic Games saw a slight improvement in
the percentage of female athletes, with 38.6% of
the athletes from the 159 National Paralympic
Committees being women (1,669 female athletes),
an increase from 35.4% of the athletes in London
(Houghton et al., 2017).
Overall, the U.S. Paralympic team’s gender
participation has improved over the last four
Paralympic Games with regard to female
participation, with 44.5% in 2016, up from 42.2% in
2012. The U.S. Paralympic team sent 124 women to
the Games in Brazil in 2016, an increase of 30 women
from 2012 (Houghton et al., 2017).
By the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang,
41% of the participating athletes were women. There
were 136 women’s events, compared to 161 for men.
There were nine mixed events. At the 2018 Games,
there were 1,204 female athletes and 1,704 male
athletes for a total of 2,908 participants (Houghton,
Pieper, & Smith, 2018).
There were 107 (44%) female and 134 (56%) male
athletes in the U.S. delegation at the 2018 Olympic
Winter Games (Houghton et al, 2018).
At the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in
PyeongChang, 24% of the participating athletes were
women. There were 133 female athletes and 431 male
athletes for a total of 564 participants. The number of
women’s events and sports in the Paralympic Winter
Games has increased over time, bringing the total to
37 women’s events, compared to 39 for men. There

There were 19 (28%) female and 50 (73%) male
athletes in the U.S. delegation at the 2018 Paralympic
Winter Games (Houghton et al, 2018).

new sports: baseball/softball, karate, skateboarding,

and 474 athletes. In keeping with recommendations
outlined in the IOC’s Gender Equality Review Project
report, there will be an equal number of women and
men in each of those new sports with the exception
of baseball/softball. In those sports, 15 players will
compete on softball team rosters while 24 players
will compete on baseball team rosters (International
Olympic Committee, 2016).
The IOC projects that 49% of the 2020 Olympic
Games participants will be female and that six sports

judo, rowing, sailing, shooting, and weightlifting
(IOC, 2019).
Of the top 500 women’s tennis players in the world as
ranked by the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), 63
are Americans. Two are ranked in the top 10 as of this
writing (Women’s Tennis Association, July 17, 2019).
The WTA has more than 2,500 players representing
100 nations. The 2019 WTA competitive season
included 55 events and four Grand Slams in 29
countries (WTA, 2019).
In 2019, the Ladies Professional Golf Association

well as the biennial Solheim Cup. There were more
than 530 LPGA Tour members with approximately
220 who competed actively throughout the season
(LPGA, 2019).
As of July 2019, there were 24 American golfers
amongst the top 100 female golfers. Two Americans
were in the top 10 (Rolex Rankings, 2019).
B. The Benets of Sport Participation for Girls
& Women
As obvious as this sounds, and as fundamental as this
concept is, before a woman can compete on a world



through creation of opportunities, girls and women still
face gender equity issues in sport (Lavoi, 2018; Senne,
2016). Before Title IX, for example, approximately 1 in
27 high school girls participated in sport (Stevenson,
2010). Currently, approximately 1 in 2 high school girls
participate in sport (McDonald, 2017). The seismic shift in
participation rates and sport opportunities for girls and
women in the United States has not, as yet, eradicated
the pressures of conforming to traditional standards
“I just think participation in
sport does so much for the
well-being of girls — it builds their
condence, helps manage stress/
mental health, and prepares them
to handle failure, knowing that
the next day may be when they
win. It is great preparation for
a career.
— Respondent, Female Leaders in
Sport Survey
Women’s Sports Foundation
WomensSportsFoundation.org
Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and
Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women
25
of femininity. As Paloian (2012) wrote, femininity has
historically been associated with characteristics that
are the antithesis of athleticism, placing a value on
taking up less space rather than owning the world; being
soft-spoken rather than loud; being polite rather than
aggressive. While girls and women today in 2019 mount
challenges to that conventional view of what it means to
be feminine, it remains a barrier for girls to reconcile in
pursuit of full participation in sport and physical activity.

in sport and physical activity at all levels of sport
participation from grassroots to professional sport and
beyond. However, there is also a nationwide gender gap
in involvement in physical activity and sport between
girls and boys (Sabo & Veliz, 2008). Rates of physical
activity decline throughout adolescence while time spent
in sedentary states increases for the average American
(Casey et al., 2009; Dumith, Gigante, Domingues, & Kohl,
2011). Sport participation at an early age can enhance
health, decrease risks of cancer (Lammert et al., 2018)
and cardiovascular disease (Barnes, 2013), and promote
greater quality of life (Sabo & Veliz, 2008).

sport based on gender from physical, mental, and
opportunity-based perspectives. For example, male
and female athletes perform almost evenly in track and

approximate age of 12, when males begin to outperform
females (Tønnessen, Svendsen, Olsen, Guttormsen, &
Haugen, 2015). Boys may prefer to participate in team-
oriented sport whereas girls prefer sport to be more
individualized (Toselli & Belcastro, 2017). Regardless of
gender, sport participation and physical activity provides


participation that are both immediate and long-term.
Girls who do not participate in sport are less content
with their lives than female sport participants (Sabo &
Veliz, 2008). Sport involvement enhances girls’ quality

participation than male athletes (Sabo & Veliz, 2008).
Sport is a favorable domain to support the fostering of
leadership skills in girls (Voelker, 2016).
Physical Benefits of Sport Participation for Girls
and Women
Sport participation is often associated with increased

pressure, and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease
(Silva et al., 2013). After the passage of Title IX, as sport
participation opportunities have become more readily

sport participation both immediately and over time. It is
recommended that young people aged 5-17 participate
in 60 minutes of moderate to rigorous activity per day (US
Department of Health and Human Services, 2018), and
reaching such standards at younger ages pays dividends
for women later in life.
According to a study evaluating obesity trends
among U.S. children and adolescents, overweight

from 36% in 2013-14 to 48% in 2015-16 (Skinner,
Ravanbakht, Skelton, Perrin, & Armstrong, 2018).

athletics opportunities and sport participation directly
attributed to Title IX, Kaestner and Xu (2010) found

mass indices and a 7% lower risk of obesity 20 to 25
years after sport participation. Additionally, women


(Kaestner & Xu, 2010).

non-scholastic sport club participation on physical

collected from participants annually from ages 8 to 12
years, then again at 16 years of age. Girls belonging
to non-scholastic sport clubs were shown to have
lower body fat percentages than non-sport club
participants over the course of the study (Telford et
al., 2016). Additionally, participation in non-scholastic
club sport was associated with higher levels of

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause

percent of U.S. women, increases the risk for CVD as
well as diabetes, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia.
Increased weight or sustained weight gain in women
can increase the risk of coronary heart disease.
As few as 11 minutes of participation in moderate
physical activity per day for seven days can reduce
CVD risk by 14%. It is also likely that physical activity

than men (Barnes, 2013). CVD is most prevalent
among Black women 20 years of age and older, as

(Mosca et al., 2014). Additionally, African American
women have the highest rates of death caused by
CVD among all ethnic groups (Mosca et al., 2014).
Therefore, access to physical activity and sport
is particularly vital for African American women.
(Staurowsky et al., 2015).
Sport participation during early adolescence
indicates a stronger likelihood of girls being active

Gardner, Aggio, & Hamer, 2015).
Adolescent sport participation can have lifelong

reduced risk of breast cancer, the second leading
cause of cancer death in women in the United
Women’s Sports Foundation
WomensSportsFoundation.org
Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and
Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women
26
States after lung cancer (American Cancer Society,
2019). According to Lammert and colleagues (2018),
moderate physical activity between the ages of 12
and 17 years was associated with a 38% decreased
risk of diagnosis of pre-menopausal breast cancer
among BRCA-associated breast cancers. Physical
activity decreases risk of breast cancer partly due
to its impact on sex hormones and insulin resistance
(Wu, Zhang, & Kang, 2013). Reports link participation
increases in weekly physical activity to decreases
in breast cancer risk, including a 5% decrease in
breast cancer risk per two participated hours of
moderate to vigorous recreational activity per week
(Wu et al., 2013).
Girls, on average, start specializing in primary sports
later than boys. As sport specialization can lead to

participating in multiple sports deeper into their sport
careers without the additional risk of injury (The
Aspen Institute, 2018).

health-related behavior in adolescents, including
the larger the athlete’s commitment to sport, the
smaller the likelihood of the athlete smoking regularly
(Melnick, Miller, Sabo, Farrell, & Barnes, 2001).
Alcohol consumption was found to be negatively
related with athlete identity (Zhou, Heim, & Levy,
2016). According to another study, girls who
participate in sport clubs were less likely to have
had or to have reported experiences with alcohol or
tobacco than female non-sport club participants (Ng
et al., 2017).
A study conducted in 2016 leveraged adolescents’
interest in gaming to potentially combat pediatric
obesity. Overweight and obese adolescent post-
menarcheal girls were evaluated through a 12-week


Exergaming programs were focused on dance to
encourage whole body movement. Participants
self-reported an increase in physical activity and
fewer hours watching television or videos as well

physical activity (Staiano, Beyl, Hsia, Katzmarzyk, &
Newton, 2016).
Participation in sport and physical activity produces

race/ethnicity (Staurowsky et al., 2015). African
American girls may be more accepting of their body
image than White girls, exhibiting less concern with
being thin (Mabry et al., 2003).
Social Benefits of Sport Participation for Girls
and Women

increased well-being, life satisfaction, community
cohesion and unity, civic renewal, and youth development,
and more (Gilchrist & Wheaton, 2017). Sport participation,
when considered part of the lifestyle of a person, allows
for a person to age through their sport, thus eliciting

participation opportunities have increased for women
since Title IX, their lifestyles have changed as well. As

stronger likelihood of sport participation later in life

behaviors through sport by young girls will likely have

A societal shift has altered perceptions around female
participation in sport, female athleticism, and perceptions
of the female athlete in the United States. However,
barriers to participation still exist for women in sport
(Staurowsky et al., 2015). Social support from peer groups,
families, and coaches can assist girls’ navigation through
barriers to increase potential for enjoying the lifetime




(Cope, Bailey, Parnell, & Kirk, 2018). A study by Soares,
Antunnes, and van den Tillaar (2013) produced similar

sociability as motivators to participate in sport.

sport require the development of adolescents’
abilities to interact positively with others, which, in
turn, results in gains for themselves, their schools,
and their communities (Bailey et al., 2006). Casey
and colleagues (2009) conducted a study examining
sociological motives of rural adolescent girls’
participation in sport. Results showed adolescent girls

involving friends with the support of their families.
Adolescent girls are vulnerable to declining levels
of physical activity due to intrapersonal (i.e., body
image and self-esteem) and interpersonal (i.e., peer
groups, family support) changes, and therefore,
participation in sport is particularly important for this
age group.
The replacement of hard spaces (asphalt) in physical
activity spaces with green spaces (grass) in a Los
Angeles elementary school resulted in an increase in
participation for boys and girls, with girls continuing
to participate in more vigorous activities for a longer
period after the greening project was completed
(Raney, Hendry, & Yee, 2019).
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In a national study of 814 parents, it was found that
they tended to place a somewhat higher value on
sport for their sons than their daughters. Gender-role

part in the way parents viewed their daughters’
participation in sport and the types of sports their
daughters played (Heinze et al., 2017).
Chen, Snyder, and Magner (2010) examined the
impact of athletics participation on college students’
social life and identity. The Division I athletes in the
study positively associated their role as athletes

acceptance, and overall development, among other

simultaneously enhanced social relationships for
the athletes.
Pedersen and Siedman (2004) found adolescent
team sport achievement and mastery in team sport
to relate to girls’ global self-esteem during middle
adolescence. Team sport self-evaluation was found to
be a mediator between achievement and self-esteem
(Pedersen & Siedman, 2004). Achievement and
self-esteem were found to be partially mediated by
girls’ perceptions of competence and interest in team
sport (Pedersen & Siedman, 2004). Interestingly,

individual sport achievement to relate to girls’ global

from the esteem-enhancing qualities of team sport.
Duncan, Strycker, and Chaumeton (2015) examined
personal, family, and peer variables on associations
with physical activity and sports participation of
African American, Latina, and White girls. For all three

to participation in moderate to vigorous physical
activity participation. Greater parental support
was related to more organized sport participation
across all ethnic and racial groups. Friends’ support
related only to African American girls’ participation in
organized sport (Duncan et al., 2015).
Daniels and Leaper (2006) examined the longitudinal
interrelations between adolescent girls and boys
aged 12-21 years and sport participation, overall self-
esteem, and perceived peer acceptance. Findings
from the study indicated peer acceptance mediated
sport participation and self-esteem. Physically active
adolescent girls who perceived being accepted by
their peers experienced increased feelings of global
self-esteem (Daniels & Leaper, 2006).
Building supportive relationships within sport is a
critical ingredient for engaging and retaining girls
in sport. Key relationships include those between
the coach and player; those among the players
through friendship and team cohesion; and those

involved in the athletes’ daily lives, including parents,
friends, and others in their schools and communities
(Zarrett et al., 2019).
Girl-centered programs, like Girls on the Run,
have been found to increase self-esteem among
adolescent girls in grades 3 through 8, empowering
them to take on life’s challenges during and after
their experience in the program (Iachini et al., 2017;
Weiss et al., 2016).
Programs such as Girls on the Move have been
designed as interventions to promote physical
activity among girls. In a study comparing girls
who participated in the program with girls who did
not, two important mediators that were found to
engage young adolescent girls in physical activity
was their own enjoyment and social support
(Robbins et al., 2019).
Emotional Benefits of Sport Participation for
Girls and Women

to participating in sport, including elevated levels of

and general well-being (Rodriguez-Ayllon et al., 2019).
Emotional intelligence is the ability and awareness to
accurately perceive emotions in oneself and in others,
the ability to use emotions to facilitate thinking, the
ability to understand emotions, and the ability to manage
emotions (Mayer, 2004). Emotional intelligence developed
during youth is crucial to overall emotional development
(Amado-Alonso, León-del-Barco, Mendo-Lázaro,
Sánchez-Miguel, & Iglesias-Gallego, 2018). As girls
are aided in their emotional development through
participation in sport, they are less likely to experience
symptoms of depression, stress, and overall distress
(Rodriguez-Ayllon et al., 2019).
Donaldson and Ronan (2006) evaluated the
relationship between sport participation and
emotional well-being in children through self-
reported emotional and behavioral issues and self-
concept. The results of the study indicated increased
levels of sport participation positively related to
emotional and behavioral well-being and self-
concepts. Children with high perceptions of their own
sport-related competencies reported fewer emotional
and behavioral issues than children who actually
possessed such competencies. Additionally, the study
found sport participation to be positively associated
with self-concept (Donaldson & Ronan, 2006).
Researchers in Canada examined the longitudinal
association between years participating in team and
individual sport during adolescence and depression
in early adulthood. According to the study, high
school team sport participants reported lower
depression scores as young adults, and the number
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of years participating in team sport negatively
correlated with depression scores. Due to the social
nature of team sport, participants experience positive
social outcomes not experienced in individual sport
participation (Sabiston et al., 2016).
Adolescent self-esteem is enhanced through
participation in sport (Fox, 2000), and according
to Brettschneider (2001), girls discover positive

activities earlier than boys.
Amado-Alonso and colleagues (2018) conducted a
study in Spain to evaluate the relationship between
emotional intelligence and sport participation in
6- to 12-year-old boys and girls. Results indicated
children who participated in organized sport had
more emotional intelligence, better emotional abilities
at the intrapersonal and interpersonal levels, and
better adaptability skills. Additionally, girls in the
study demonstrated greater emotional intelligence
than boys, suggesting girls and women are more
emotionally competent and recognize emotions
better interpersonally (Amado-Alonso et al., 2018).
Physical activity is negatively associated with

total psychological distress and positively associated
with self-image, life satisfaction, happiness, and
psychological well-being (Rodriguez-Ayllon et al.,
2019). Frequency of physical activity has been shown
to be positively correlated with well-being and
negatively correlated with anxiety and depression,
indicating more frequent physical activity contributes
to mental health (McMahon et al., 2017).
According to a study, reported quality of life, or

who did not participate in team sport when compared
to girls involved in team sport (Sabo & Veliz, 2008).
Students reporting higher quality of life scores were
more physically and socially active, indicating an
association between athletics participation and
quality of life.
Academic Benefits of Sport Participation for
Girls and Women
Students who compete and participate in
school-sponsored activities have better academic and
educational outcomes, including grades, test scores,
and educational expectations (NFHS, n.d.; Zarrett et al,
2019; Veliz, 2019; Veliz, Snyder, & Sabo, 2019). As sport
participation opportunities for girls at the primary,
secondary, and collegiate levels increased dramatically
after the passage of Title IX, female students have
increasingly been more able to take advantage of the

participation is directly related to higher grade point
averages and test scores, other factors improving girls’


According to a study examining the associations
between sport team participation, physical activity,
and academic outcomes in middle and high school
girls, both moderate to vigorous physical activity
and sport team participation were associated
with higher grade point averages in high school-

linear relationship between an increase in hours of
moderate to vigorous physical activity and grade
point average. Sport team participation likely

academic outcomes (Fox, Barr-Anderson, Neumark-
Sztainer, & Wall, 2009).
In a study of 184 African American high school
girls enrolled in a large urban public high school,
those who participated in vigorous physical activity
were found to have better academic performance
(Shen, 2017).
In an analysis of data from the Education
Longitudinal Study from 2002, using a representative
sample of 16,200 students, Bang et al. (2018) reported
that high school sports participation had a positive

and Hispanic students.
Higher sports participation rates for girls and boys
across U.S. high schools have been found to be
associated with higher Advanced Placement (AP)
math, AP science, AP foreign language, and overall
AP enrollment rates (Veliz & Shakib, 2014).

to be similar, if not stronger, in girls than in boys
(Pearson, Crissey, & Riegle-Crumb, 2009; Veliz &

sport, however, and may also be mediated by racial
and ethnic group (Sabo, Veliz, & Rafalson, 2013).
Shifrer, Pearson, Muller, and Wilkinson (2015)
conducted a longitudinal study to evaluate the
relationship between high school sport participation
and college attendance in the 1980s, 1990s,
and 2000s. Results indicated high school sport
participation was positively associated with college
attendance for White boys and girls, Black boys,
and Latino boys and girls. Concerning results
indicated high school sport participation was
negatively associated with college attendance for
Black girls. The researchers indicated the relatively
disadvantaged backgrounds of Black female
athletes, both socially and academically, likely
contributed to the results, indicating Black girls
may have a stronger perception of athletics as a

postsecondary pursuits.
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Troutman and Dufur (2007) evaluated data from the
National Education Longitudinal Study and found
women who previously engaged in interscholastic
high school sport were more likely to complete
college than former high school female non-athletes,
indicating a positive relationship between sport
participation and academic achievement.
Participation in high school varsity sports is positively
associated with academic achievement, and while

in mathematics, high school athletics participation

vocabulary (Yeung, 2015).
High school athletes are less likely to miss school, as
a study conducted in Minnesota found high school
athletes miss an average of 7.4 days of school
per year, less than the non-athlete average of 8.8
missed days (Born, 2007; NFHS, n.d.). Another study

high school students miss an average of 6.3 days
of school per 180-day school year, much less than
the non-athlete average of 11.9 missed days (NFHS,
n.d.; Overton, n.d.). This additional time spent in
school likely contributes to increases in academic
performance and grade point average of high school
female college athletes.
Female high school athletes in Kansas reported
higher grade point averages than non-athletes,
including 12% more female athletes than non-athletes
reporting a GPA of 3.0 or above and 18% more female
athletes than non-athletes reporting a GPA of 3.5 or
above (Lumpkin & Favor, 2012).
Female athletes graduated at a rate 8% higher than
female non-athletes. When compared to males,
87% of female athletes reported a GPA at or above
3.0, whereas 74% of male athletes reported a GPA
at or above 3.0. Female non-athletes were 24 times
more likely to drop out of high school than female
athletes; male non-athletes were 12 times more likely
than male athletes to drop out of high school. These

vital to the educational experience of female high
school student retention (Lumpkin & Favor, 2012).
Based on federal graduation rates (FGR) for select
groups in 2018 as reported by the NCAA, female
athletes graduated at higher rates than other
students in the undergraduate population. Compared
with an overall student FGR of 66%, White female
athletes had a 78% graduation rate; Black female
athletes had a 70% graduation rate; and Hispanic/
Latino female athletes had a 69% graduation rate
(NCAA, 2018b).
Comparisons between the federal graduation rates
(FGR) for female athletes and other female students
within racial groups revealed that female athletes
graduated at higher rates than their female student
counterparts. While White female athletes outpaced
White female undergraduates by 6% (78% to 72%),
Black female athletes graduated at rates that were
19% higher than Black female students (70% to 51%),
and Hispanic/Latino female athletes graduated at a
rate that was 5% higher than Hispanic/Latino female
students (69% to 64%) (NCAA, 2018b).
C. Barriers to Sport Participation for Girls and
Women in the U.S.
Girls’ participation in sport is shaped by access and
opportunity (Sabo & Veliz, 2008). Somerset and Hoare

to adolescent sport participation. O’Reilly and colleagues

models, lack of media exposure and attendance, and

girls and women. Many of these barriers intersect with
one another. In a study of U.S. adults (YouGov, 2017),
60% of adults agreed that girls do not have as many
opportunities to get involved and only 43% believe they
know what steps they could take to help girls become
more active in sports.6
Cost of Participation & Financial
Resource Concerns
Access to sport participation is connected in no small

systems responded to limited resources and budget
strains, as well as pressures associated with children
meeting certain testing criteria established through the No
Child Left Behind Act in 2001, spending on extracurricular
activities such as sport programs was redirected to other
areas of schools. The funding model to emerge out of
that resetting of priorities was a pay-for-play system
6 This was a nationally representative sample of 1,372 U.S.
adults aged 18 years or older. Six percent of the sample were
parents with daughters.
“With club sports, we are falling
into a pay to play culture, which is
predominantly white, high income
female student athletes. We must
nd ways to include those that
are low-income — for all sports.
— Respondent, Female Leaders in
Sport Survey
Women’s Sports Foundation
WomensSportsFoundation.org
Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and
Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women
30
that applied athletic and/or activities fees to families
who wanted their children to play after-school sports.
According to Eyler et al. (2019), California is the only state
to ban such a model for funding school sport programs,
while 17 states allow such fees with varying requirements

Beyond costs associated with school sports, access to
sport opportunities for girls and women in the United

participation, from equipment costs to instruction costs to
ongoing membership fees. For youth sport participants,
community-based programs and travel teams add an

bear in supporting girls in their sport preferences.
A survey of U.S. adults (YouGov, 2017) found that
a large majority (73%) said that high schools and
colleges provide better support for boys’ and men’s
sports programs relative to girls’ and women’s.
A RAND Corporation study (Whitaker et al., 2019),
found that 63% of school budgets are stagnant or
decreasing, 58% of community-based sports fees are
rising, and 42% of low-income families whose kids do
not play sports cite cost as the main reason.
The disparate rates at which African American and
White girls participate in physical activity have been
attributed to African American girls being more likely
to attend schools with few resources and higher
poverty rates. This impacts material resources

programs, and opportunities to play. In a nationwide
survey, 33% of African American parents reported
that their daughters never participated in sport or
had to stop playing because the family could not

with 18% of parents of White girls (Graves, Kaufmann,
& Frolich, 2014).
Girls from lower-income households were less likely
to participate in a wider range of sports (two or more
within the last year) than girls of higher-income
households (Zarrett, et al, 2019).
There is a minority-majority gap in sport participation
due to cost, as minority groups often have fewer
socioeconomic resources than majority groups
(Strandbu, Bakken, & Sletten, 2019). In a study of
African American women in a rural community in


(Walker & Cunningham, 2014).


incomes (Sabo & Veliz, 2008: Swanson, 2016),
indicating income levels are positively associated
with girls’ sport participation. Through interviews
with African American girls from a low-income

barriers to sport participation were lessened when
African American girls had access to scholarships to

only 1% of high school athletes of any race receive
scholarship support (Brenner, 2019).
Elite club volleyball athletes are required to spend
approximately $7,000 annually on tournaments, gear,
travel, and equipment. Such a pay-to-play system
often diminishes opportunities for non-club sport
participants to compete even at less competitive high
school levels (Friedman, 2017).
Chronic stress associated with providing for their

single mothers, and the lack of social and community


for them to participate in physical activity. Lack

major factors that prevented or discouraged regular
physical activity by Black single mothers (Dlugonski et
al., 2017).
Location & Safety
The levels of safety and security within neighborhoods
and communities have been found to have an impact on
girls’ access to and opportunity to participate in sport and
physical activity.
Using data from the National Health and Nutrition
Examination Survey (NHANES), Chaparro et al. (2019)
found that girls between the ages of 12 through
20 years participated less and were at greater
risk of obesity in neighborhoods with higher crime
rates. Girls who lived in high-crime areas had 26%
Nicole Ross and Nzingha Prescod
Women’s Sports Foundation
WomensSportsFoundation.org
Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and
Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women
31
lower odds of engaging in moderate to vigorous
physical activity during the week compared to girls
in low-crime neighborhoods. Girls in high-crime
neighborhoods had 27% higher odds of being
overweight/obese when compared to girls in lower-
crime neighborhoods.
There is a positive association between the level of
walkability in a neighborhood, body mass index, and
physical activity. Where there is greater walkability,

BMI and greater engagement in physical activity
(Jia et al., 2019).
Parent-perceived neighborhood safety and parent
encouragement of physical activity are believed to be
potential predictors of physical activity for children.
Examining perceptions of physical activity on the part
of parents and children, parents reported that their
children participated outside in at least 30 minutes
of physical activity every day while children reported
that they participated in 30 minutes of physical
activity three times a week. Parents reported higher
levels of physical activity among boys rather than
girls (although girls did not report lower rates of
physical activity). Citing previous studies, researchers
noted that ensuring the safety of neighborhoods was
important to child engagement in physical activity,
especially among girls (Nicksic et al., 2018).
In a study of 41,293 school-aged children in Shelby
County, Tennessee, neighborhood environmental

activity levels. In general, girls are more sensitive
than boys to neighborhood environments in terms
of their sense of being able to get up and go places
(Yang et al., 2015; Yang et al., 2018).
Healthy behaviors, including physical activity levels
and healthy eating, are linked with “built, social, and
socioeconomic environments assets (access to parks,

Quality of Coach Expertise
Research shows coach actions impact the personal

Theeboom, & Van Cauwenberg, 2017). However,


and commitment. A study in Australia evaluating

girls aged 9 to 12 years found that girls with coaches
who had gone through coach education programs
engaged in more practice time in all categories of
physical activity (moderate to vigorous) than girls
with non-educated coaches (Guagliano, Lonsdale,
Kolt, Rosenkranz, & George, 2015).
Another study evaluating the coach-to-peer
motivational climates and developmental gains of
disadvantaged girls through participation in sport
found the more coaches created a mastery-oriented
climate, the more likely the athletes reported positive

Coaches play a particularly central role in engaging
and retaining girls in sport. Among girls ages 7-13
years, research shows that coaches who combine
fun with healthy competition, integrate goal setting
and help build supportive relationships have a

their sport and their intention to play in the future.
(Zarrett et al., 2019).
Time Constraints & Demands
Time constraints of school, work, relationships, and
careers can negatively impact sport participation
opportunities and lead girls to drop out of sport sooner
and at a higher rate than boys (Sabo & Veliz, 2008). An

girls’ participation in physical activity and sport and found
intrapersonal barriers to increase as females matured,
and despite the fact that female participants placed
consistently high importance on physical activity and
sport, the importance of school, work, relationships, and
careers increased (Eime et al., 2014).
Girls enter sport at an average age of 7.4 years,
a later age than boys who enter at an average of
6.8 years (Sabo & Veliz, 2008). White girls are most
likely to be involved with sports at age 6 or younger
(53%) while the early entry rate for African American
“Don’t make girls feel as though
they have to choose between
sports or other commitments to
be the best. Don’t make girls feel
inferior if they don’t make the best
team (varsity/elite level), boys
are encouraged to work harder to
make varsity or elite teams. Girls
are encouraged to quit because
the coach must not like them or
value them.
— Respondent, Female Leaders in
Sport Survey
Women’s Sports Foundation
WomensSportsFoundation.org
Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and
Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women
32
girls is 29% and 32% for Hispanic girls (Staurowsky
et al., 2015).
Even for female athletes who have made a career


to create a balance. Based on self-report, college
athletes spent more time on their sports in 2015
7 For female college
athletes, their time expenditure had gone up by at
least two hours in every sport across Divisions I and
II (average hours reported were between 31 and
32 hours per week), with the exception of women’s
basketball (35 hours per week). In Division III, time
commitment for female athletes went up in women’s
basketball (29 hours per week) and remained the
same in other sports (27 hours per week). The time
commitment for female athletes was, however, lower
than that for male athletes across all three divisions
(NCAA, 2016).
In interviews with 23 elite athletes with disabilities
(17 males; 6 females), cost, lack of opportunity, and
time constraints were barriers that needed to be
overcome in order for these athletes to fully develop
(McLoughlin et al., 2017).
Sport Specialization

in sport is to participate and specialize in one sport from a
young age and eliminate others (Myer et al., 2015). On the
contrary, sport specialization can reduce opportunities for
all children to participate in sport and can lead to reduced
motor skills and reduced development of lifetime sports skills

various sport settings, as research links the sampling
approach to continued participation in physical activity into
adulthood (Cote, Horton, MacDonald, & Wilkes, 2009).
For example, USA Basketball, in conjunction with
the NBA, released its Youth Basketball Guidelines to
prioritize health and well-being and enhance the
experience and development of young athletes. It is
recommended in the report that athletes aged 12-14
years participate in a maximum of seven months of
organized basketball per year (National Basketball
Association, n.d.).
Teens who participate in two or more sports engage
in healthier behaviors than those who participate
in one or none. Boys (47%) are more likely than girls
(29%) to participate in two or more sports (Zarrett,
Veliz, & Sabo, 2018).
In a study of 1,544 high school athletes (780 girls,
764 boys) from 29 schools, Post et al. (2017) found
7 The NCAA GOALS study collects data from college athletes
in cycles. The data collection years compared here are for 2010
and 2015. Data from the 2015 study was published in 2016.
that girls were more likely than boys to participate in
high-volume competition (23% v. 11%); participate on
a club team (61% vs. 37%) and to have a more highly
specialized sport experience (16% to 10%). This pattern
of participation was found to expose girls to a greater
likelihood of lower extremity injury (LEI). Similarly,
Jayanthi and Dugas (2017) found that the more
single-sport specialization female athletes engaged
in, the higher the risk of overuse injury and burnout.
Girls generally overspecialize in sport later than boys
(The Aspen Institute, 2018). Depending on the sample,
as we see here, girls may be more involved in highly
specialized sport experiences than boys.
Technology
As American children have become more involved in and

how much time children are spending looking at and
engaging with electronic devices on a daily basis and
the negative impact this has on their health. Smartphone
use has been found to impair parents’ ability to fully
connect with their children (Kushlev & Dunn, 2019). In
February of 2019, the Eunice Shriver National Institute of
Child Health and Human Development was petitioned by
the Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and

habits on children’s health as a research priority for the

to the Pew Research Center, amidst growing concerns
from parents about the attachment their children have
to their electronic devices, teens between the ages of 13
and 17 years are reporting similar concerns. In a national
survey of 743 teens and 1,058 parents, nine in 10 teens
expressed a belief that spending too much time online
was a problem for teens. Girls were more likely to report
that they spent too much time on social media (47% girls
vs. 35% boys) while boys said they spent too much time
playing video games (41% boys vs. 11% girls) (Jiang, 2018).
Sedentary behavior, such as screen time (including video
gaming and TV), can coexist with a physically active
lifestyle (Ferrar, Olds, & Maher, 2013); however, adolescent
screen time can serve as a barrier to sport participation.
Small screen time and physical activity showed an inverse
relationship in Norwegian 9- and 15-year-old children

to Ferrar and colleagues (2013), place a high value upon
television and computer use and social interaction and
report poor dietary habits and higher weight status,
placing them at higher health risk.
Five girls from a local Girl Scout Troop (ages 7-11)
(three African American, one African American and
Dominican, and one White) were interviewed about
the reasons why they did not participate in outdoor
physical activity. In addition to having very busy
schedules due in part to participating in a variety of

Women’s Sports Foundation
WomensSportsFoundation.org
Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and
Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women
33
some way to technology. They noted, for example,
that the people around them are indoors on their

to do the same. They talked about the draw of being
on social media and attractiveness of having access
to electronic devices so that they could play computer
games (Sackett, Newhart, Jenkins & Cory, 2018).
Gender Norms & Stereotypes
The sport environment in the U.S. has been structured
historically to conform to a gender binary, thus the
arrangement of separate teams for girls and boys, and for
women and men (Staurowsky et al., 2016). Interwoven into

about male superiority and female inferiority that cast
female athletes as the weaker sex and less capable of
and less interested in participating in an array of sporting
activities. Distilled into expectations about how girls and

gender norms, how girls and women present themselves
to the world, how they play the sports they play, and
what sports they choose to participate in is the subject of
societal scrutiny, inspection, and judgement. Living in the

and women often bump up against those expectations
that can, at times, constrain and/or deny who they are.
And while overt sex stereotyping — appearance over
accomplishment, frailty over strength, politeness over
aggressiveness — has given ground to a much more
nuanced understanding of who girls and women are,

experiences of female athletes and women working in the
sport industry.
Further, in confronting the reality that gender is a social
construction that is not locked into polar opposites of
female and male but is a hub around which intersecting
components about identity occur (Rauscher & Cooky,
2019), Fisher et al. (2018) explain that those teaching,
instructing, counseling, and advising athletes need to
understand how sex assignment at birth (assigned as
female or male); gender identity (e.g., female, male,
transgender, queer, or other); gender expression (e.g.,

orientation (e.g., asexual, bisexual, heterosexual, and
homosexual) impact performance and interpretations of
the body.
The complications of gender norms become apparent
in the case of women competing in the sport of mixed
martial arts (MMA). In a study examining how people

types of ads (sexualized, neutral, or combat), female
respondents preferred neutral representations of the

Both female and male respondents viewed MMA

and charming but also less talented, less successful,
and less tough (Greenwell et al., 2017).
The pressure for children to remain in their gender

vulnerabilities of athletes who opt to participate in
sports not historically marked for their gender. For
example, in an analysis of data from Add Health
(6,485 adolescents), participating in team sport was
generally associated with lower suicidal ideation,
but athletes who chose individual sports outside of
gender norms (cheerleading for boys; wrestling for
girls) were at higher risk for suicidal ideation (Gunn &
Lester, 2014).
In a survey of girls and their parents (Zarrett et al.,
2019), nearly one-third (32%) of the girls reported that
sometimes boys made fun of them or made them feel
uncomfortable while they practiced. Nearly one-third
of girls (31%) expressed that appearance-related
reasons were part of their motivation for
their participation.
Through focus group interviews with 78 Latina
students between the ages of 12 and 17 years,
gender-based teasing primarily from male peers but

barrier to their participation in sport and physical
activity (Lopez, 2019).
Among parents responding to a national survey
regarding Title IX and support and attitudes towards
girls participating in sport, parents had higher
expectations for their sons than their daughters.
The breakdown of parental expectations for sport
participation was as follows: high school intramural
sport participation (sons – 26%; daughters – 14%);
“I watch the marketing from
my own kids schools and there
is a ton of support for ‘gender
appropriate’ activities-dance
for girls and football for boys but
no support for things like soccer,
which is played equally. ... When
girls see support from schools for
gendered activities it carries deep
into their lives.
— Respondent, Female Leaders in
Sport Survey
Women’s Sports Foundation
WomensSportsFoundation.org
Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and
Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women
34
high school varsity sports participation (sons – 44%;
daughters – 36%); college club or intramural sports
(sons – 19%; daughters – 14%); and NCAA varsity
sports (sons – 17%; daughters – 12%) (YouGov
America, Inc., 2017).
Culture & Multiple Identities
In order to gain a full appreciation of the gender gaps
that exist for girls and women in the U.S. sport system, it is
important to consider those gaps within the larger context
of other aspects of the human condition that contribute to
the ways in which girls and women live in the world, the
way they view themselves and the way others view them.

it is by cultural, ethnic, gender, political, national, racial,
and religious identities as well as socio-economic status
and sexual orientation, as examples (Krane, Barber, &
Durah, 2018; Staurowsky, 2016). As a consequence, policy
designed to encourage greater access to sport among
U.S. girls and women needs to take the complexity of girls’
and women’s lives into account.
Latina girls cited gender-related teasing and
self-consciousness as cause for discomfort in
participating in sport; however, they subsequently
pushed back against stereotypes of Latina women
being subservient, passive, and disinterested in

participation (Lopez, 2019).
Girls in immigrant families report lower rates of
sport participation than boys in similar families as
many immigrant parents hold traditional attitudes
towards gender roles (Sabo & Veliz, 2008; Thul, LaVoi,
Hazelwood, & Hussein, 2016; Thul, LaVoi, & Wasend,
2018). Female children of immigrant parents may
be less likely to participate in sport, as immigrant
parents tend to have negative attitudes towards
their daughters’ sport participation (Strandbu et al.,
2019). Participation variations between girls and boys
are likely driven by economic disparities, racial and

Veliz, 2008).
As reported in Play to Win: Improving the Lives of
LGBTQ Youth in Sports (Human Rights Campaign,
2017), anti-LGBTQ attitudes are pervasive in the sport
culture. According to a survey conducted by Dennison
& Kitchen (2015), 84% of Americans indicate that they
either witnessed or experienced anti-LGBTQ attitudes
in sport.
In an analysis of physical activity disparities between
heterosexual and sexual minority youth between
the ages of 12 and 22 years using data from the U.S.
Growing Up Today study, Calzo et al. (2014) found
that sexual minorities (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, mostly
heterosexual) were 46%-76% less likely to participate
in team sports than their same-sex heterosexual
peers. Intolerance to gender non-conformity was

Interviews with 12 African American female runners
who participated in marathons and half-marathons
revealed that they navigated concerns about hair,
physical appearance, body shape, and cultural
Table 3: WSF Female Leaders in Sport Survey:
Access & Opportunities: Factors Impacting Participation in Sport
Financial and Operational
Leaders generally noted that lack of access to opportunities had the greatest negative impact on girls’ participation
in sport over the last 10 years.

fees and access to transportation to take them to and from practices/games.
Youth leaders felt that access to quality facilities/resources and equal treatment was more of a barrier to
participation than did leaders from other areas of sport.
Social and Behavioral
Leaders generally noted that sedentary behaviors (e.g., increased screen time) had the greatest negative impact on
girls’ participation in sport over the last 10 years.

of academics or other extracurricular activities.
Girls’ knowledge of how to get involved was viewed as having one of the greatest positive impacts on girls’
participation in sport.
From Staurowsky et al., 2020. Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women.
Women’s Sports Foundation
WomensSportsFoundation.org
Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and
Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women
35
expectations (Rice et al., 2018). These runners also
spoke to the isolation they felt in participating in a
predominantly White sport, feeling at times like “they

Findings from Rice et al. (2018) regarding the concern
African American female athletes have about hair
and appearance as barriers to participation is further
substantiated by Woolford et al. (2016) and Wright
et al. (2017).
The issue of racial identity and the isolation
African American female athletes participating on
predominantly White teams is anticipated and shared
by African American mothers. In a qualitative study
of African American mothers, they too expressed
concern about the attention that would be drawn
to their daughters on White teams and their own
discomfort being a minority parent (Perkins &
Partridge, 2014).
Focusing on increasing the rate of participation
of African American girls in physical activity, Barr,

programs were structured around family involvement.

strategies ranged from surface-level (i.e., African

materials highlighting same-race models) to
structural-level adaptations (i.e., family-oriented
components, inclusion of Gospel aerobics and dance
as a mode of physical activity, and adherence to
cultural food preferences) (p. 139).
Research on Muslim girls demonstrates that gender
and religion intersect with family and community
expectations in ways that enable involvement in
physical education, recreation, and sport but also

to prevailing perceptions, Muslim girls serve as active
agents in navigating physical activity spaces.
Other Barriers to Girls & Women’s Sport
Participation
Adolescent obesity is a barrier to sport participation,

2013-14 to 48% in 2015-16 in girls aged 16 to 19 years
(The Aspen Institute, 2018).
As adolescent girls’ bodies change, so too do their
experiences in sport. A study in the United Kingdom
found 73% of adolescent girls aged 11-18 years

careers, indicating the onset of puberty as a barrier
to physical activity (Scurr et al., 2016).
Body composition can explain delayed menarche and
menstrual irregularities and girls who mature later
often select or are placed in sports that favor small,
lean body types (Sims, 2018).
D. Health & Safety Concerns
While there is no question that participation in sport

can last a lifetime, participation in any kind of activity
can pose health and safety concerns. As a result, it is
critical to be aware of vulnerabilities in the sport system
that pose potential threats to female athletes and to be
responsive to the needs of female athletes. In this section,
we provide a broad overview of some of the most pressing
concerns that female athletes face from a health and
safety perspective.
Coach Emotional & Verbal Abuse
The coach-athlete relationship is innately one where there
is a power imbalance, however there has been a dearth of
research on this topic (Kavanaugh, Brown, & Jones, 2017).
The work that has been done centers around exploitative
and abusive behaviors targeting both female and male
athletes by coaches that typically manifest in one of four
forms: emotional abuse, neglect and bullying, physical
abuse, and sexual abuse (Kavanugh et al., 2017). This
section deals primarily with coach emotional and verbal
abuse as well as neglect and bullying. Coaches often hold
all of the power due to their ability to make choices about
playing time, scholarships, team selection, and their ability

(Brake, 2012; Bringer, Brackenridge, & Johnston, 2002).
Because of the power imbalance and authoritarian nature
of sport, scholars argue athletics is a prime climate for
the abuse of athletes (Cense & Brackenridge, 2001; Kerr &
Stirling, 2012; Stirling & Kerr, 2013).
As Jacobs, Smits, and Knoppers (2017) also explain,
coaches draw upon several rationales to justify treating
elite youth athletes in ways that are objectively abusive
but not seen as such by coaches. Coaches legitimize their
mistreatment of athletes by explaining away their abuse
and casting it as attempts at motivation and protection.

determine given the available research, in a 2011 study
of 6,000 young people in the United Kingdom between
the ages of 18 and 24 years, 75% of those responding
indicated that they had experienced some form of
coach abuse as a child while participating in youth sport
(Alexander et al., 2011).
“Nowadays sports are a little
too serious…. I just try to have as
much fun as possible.
— Little League World Series Star
Mo’ne Davis
Women’s Sports Foundation
WomensSportsFoundation.org
Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and
Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women
36
Strand et al. (2018) surveyed 920 undergraduate
students (half female, half male) who had
participated in high school sports to determine
bullying behaviors by their coach to which they were
subjected and those directed toward other athletes.

ranging from taunting to ongoing sexual harassment,
the top four categories included coaches having
thrown something at them (16%); directed critical
comments at them designed to hurt (20%); dirty looks
meant to hurt (20%); embarrassing them in front
of others (34%); poking fun at someone (26%); and
being set up to look foolish (17%). When broken down
by gender, male athletes were more likely to have
something thrown at them by a coach compared
to female athletes (20% to 12%) but female athletes
reported being the target more frequently of critical
comments designed to hurt them (23% to 17%).
Through narratives from eight African American
female college athletes, a picture of the racialized
and gendered nature of the aggressive verbal
communication used by their coaches emerged.
Noting that coaches used various pressure points
to manipulate them, such as modest or low family
income, the players described behaviors that
were threatening (loss of scholarship; language
designed to create fear and intimidation); coaches
emphasizing the dependency players had on their


(being told they didn’t amount to anything and

(having to run laps for transgressions) (Ruggiero &
Lattin, 2008).
Emotional abuse is a common form of abuse that is
an emerging area of research within the sporting
arena (Gervis & Dunn, 2004; Kirby, Greaves, &
Hankivsky, 2000; Stirling & Kerr, 2008, 2014). Scholars
argue that emotional abuse is pervasive in sports
but due to the fact that it is often hard to monitor it
continues to permeate sport (Stirling & Kerr, 2014).
Stirling and Kerr (2013) conducted a study that
focused on elite athletes’ experiences of emotional
abuse by their coaches within the coach–athlete
relationship. The purpose was to identify potential

psychological well-being, training, and sport
performance. Participants in this study discussed
emotionally abusive coaching behaviors that
included “demeaning criticisms, name-calling, public
humiliation, threats, continual yelling and swearing
at the athlete, periods of being intentionally ignored,
and acts of physical intimidation such as throwing

Kavanagh, Brown, and Jones (2017) explored elite
athletes’ coping strategies in response to emotional
abuse they experienced within the coach-athlete
relationship. Results revealed that athletes develop
various coping strategies to deal with the emotional
abuse and utilize these strategies as the abusive
behaviors continue through the coach-athlete
relationship. The athletes used coping strategies to
deal with the emotional abuse and to enable them
to continue competing in the sport. The athletes
also were initially silent about the abuse and tried to
process the feelings and experience by themselves
before seeking outside support (both formally
and informally).
The psychological, physical, and/or sexual abuse
endured by athletes is often lumped under the
umbrella term of non-accidental violence (Mountjoy
et al., 2016; Roberts, Sojo, & Grant, 2019). Mountjoy
and colleagues (2016) created a consensus
statement about non-accidental violence in sport.
They argued the successful prevention of abuse and
harassment against athletes is dependent upon the
leadership of the major international and national
sport organizations.
Roberts, Sojo, and Grant (2019) conducted
a meta-analysis on literature that examined
non-accidental violence in sport. The researchers
found that “non-accidental violence is a pervasive

and ages, though children, elite athletes and those
from stigmatised groups (e.g., women, LGBTQ, and
athletes with disabilities) are more vulnerable to

2019, p. 17).
Table 4: WSF Female Leaders in Sport
Survey: Perceptions of Social and
Behavioral Barriers
Impact on Participation
Overall, Olympic/elite and high school leaders
had the highest concerns about safety (injuries)

over the last 10 years.
Counter to this, recreational league leaders
had the least concern about injuries impacting
female athlete participation.
Olympic/elite-level leaders also had the highest
concerns about sexual abuse impacting female
athlete participation in sport.
From Staurowsky et al., 2020. Chasing Equity: The
Triumphs, Challenges, and Opportunities in Sports for
Girls and Women.
Women’s Sports Foundation
WomensSportsFoundation.org
Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and
Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women
37
Female Athletes & Sexual Abuse
According to a survey conducted by the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention, “about 1 in 3 women
and nearly 1 in 6 men experienced some form of contact

para 4). According to Abrams and Bartlett (2019), “There

243). The rate of sexual assaults on college campuses
have remained relatively stable for the past 20 years
(Fedina, Holmes & Backes, 2016). At the college level,
23% of female and 5.4% of male undergraduate students
have experienced rape or sexual assault through
physical force, violence, or incapacitation (Cantor et
al., 2015). Transgender college students are among the
most vulnerable populations to sexual violence, with 25%
reporting having been assaulted at some point during
their undergraduate careers on campus (New, 2015).
The array of violence individuals in sport settings
experience has been the subject of research for decades.
In this moment, an awakening has occurred as a result
of highly publicized cases of hundreds of female and

medicine predators and testifying in very public ways to

them and other athletes. There is growing awareness
that sexual abuse in its many forms, from sex abuse to
sexual harassment to sexual assault to interpersonal
violence to rape, occurs across the expanse of sport
spaces and can be perpetrated by individuals in positions
of authority (e.g., administrators, performance directors,
coaches, members of the media, parents, sports medicine
personnel) or may occur between athlete peers and
between colleagues (Parent & Fortier, 2018). While there
is much more to be known about the extent of the harm
done to athletes individually and collectively throughout
the U.S. sport system, female athletes and women
working in the sport industry have been particularly
vulnerable to this violence and have had to live with its
negative impacts.
In 2017, the U.S. Center for SafeSport (The Center) was
given the authority by the U.S. Olympic Committee
(USOC) to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct
within the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Movements. The

Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization
Act of 2017, which was passed by the U.S. Congress
in February of 2018. Beyond reporting protocols and
standards for how sexual abuse cases are handled by
individuals working with U.S. national sport governing
bodies, the Safe Sport Act requires that adults working in
youth sports are mandatory reporters, who must report
suspected incidents of abuse to law enforcement within
a 24-hour period of time. They must go through abuse
prevention training that is proactive rather than reactive;
and they must undergo a criminal background check
(Sadler Sports & Recreation Insurance, 2018). The Safe
Sport Act is clearly a positive development in creating
an independent avenue for alleged misconduct to be
properly investigated and handled, but some say that the
Safe Sport Act has not gone far enough to ensure that
youth athletes are protected because it is an unfunded
mandate that has no accountability mechanism or ability

obligations (Haviland, 2018). As discussions continue on
how to make sport environments safe for athletes and
those who work in them, the data make a compelling case
for why these issues must be at the top of agendas for
public policy makers, sport administrators, parents, law
enforcement, and media.
Female athletes appear to be the victims of sexual
violence in sports more than male athletes. Fasting,
Brackenridge, and Kjølberg (2013) discovered that
in 14 Norwegian court reports of 29 victims, only
one case involved two boys and 27 were female
victims. Vertommen et al. (2016) stated that 17.2% of
the females in their study had experienced sexual
violence while participating in organized sport
as children. In contrast, 10.2% of boys reported
experiencing sexual violence while in sport.
Fasting, Sand, and Sisjord (2018) examined coaches’
opinions and attitudes towards coach-athlete sexual
relationships. Three of the 36 coaches in the study
admitted to having a relationship with an athlete. The
majority of the coaches stated they felt relationships
between coaches and athletes were problematic
and believed it is important to have strict rules and
clear boundaries.
While many of the coaches in the Fasting et al study
(2018) believed coach-athlete relationships were
problematic, not all coaches felt that way. In 2019,
Baillie Gibson sued the University of Arizona and her
former Coach Craig Carter. Carter was arrested and
convicted of felony aggravated assault for holding
Gibson’s throat with one hand, putting a box cutter
to her throat with the other hand, and threatening
to cut her face. This followed what Gibson said was

consensual. The state of Arizona paid $999,000 to
Gibson to settle this lawsuit (Schmidt, 2019).
Sexual abuse in athletics is not restricted to coaches
and athletes. The most prominent sex abuse scandal
in sports involved the USA Gymnastics and Michigan
State University team doctor, Larry Nassar. Nassar
abused and assaulted 265 known individuals over 25
years (BBC News, 2018; Mencarini, 2018). Over his
career, Nassar was accused multiple times of sexually

24, 2018, Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in
prison on sexual assault charges (Mencarini, 2018).
Through the trial and an investigation conducted
by the Indianapolis Star (IndyStar), it became clear
that countless adults in gymnastics centers across
Women’s Sports Foundation
WomensSportsFoundation.org
Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and
Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women
38

and Michigan State University’s athletic department
and administration failed each and every victim
Nassar abused. Winning and the pursuit of gold
was prioritized over these girls’ and young women’s
well-being and safety.
While the Nassar case might be the most prominent
case involving sexual abuse of gymnasts, it certainly
is not the only one. An IndyStar investigation
uncovered decades of abuse that often went
uninvestigated and allegations that were dismissed
(Kwiatkowski, Alesia, & Evans, 2016). The failure of
USA Gymnastics to properly investigate or report the
alleged abuse to authorities resulted in dozens of
girls and young women being abused by coaches and
others involved in the sport.
As reported in The New York Times, the #MeToo
wave was felt in the global sport of soccer. Within


on four continents came forward with their own
stories of coaches and administrators engaged in
sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, and rape
(Panja, 2019).
Female Athletes & Mental Health

depression as a mood disorder that can alter how a
person feels, thinks, and deals with daily activities.
Symptoms of depression must be present for at least two
weeks and include “persistent sad, anxious, or empty
mood; feelings of hopelessness or pessimism; irritability;
feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness; loss of
interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities, decreased
energy or fatigue; moving or talking more slowly;

concentrating, remembering, or oversleeping; appetite
and/or weight changes; thoughts of death or suicide, or
suicide attempts; aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or
digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or

of Mental Health, 2018, para 9)
In the United States, 17.3 million adults (7.1% of the
adult population) have had a major depressive
episode (National Institute of Mental Health, 2019). The
prevalence of depression was higher in women (8.7%)
than men (5.3%) and the age range with the highest
incidence of depression was adults 18-25 years (13.1%)
(National Institute of Mental Health, 2019). On a global

depression, with women experiencing disability from
neuropsychiatric disorders more frequently than men
(42% to 29%) (World Health Organization, 2017). The
World Health Organization (2017) notes that “Gender


violence, socioeconomic disadvantage, low income
and income inequality, low or subordinate social status
and rank and unremitting responsibility for the care of

In a study of 756 youth athletes between the ages
of 6 and 18 years, female athletes (44%) as well as
athletes who reported experiencing depression and/
or anxiety were less likely to get the amount of sleep
recommended for their age. Further female athletes
who played their sports for goal-oriented rather than
fun reasons were at increased risk of not getting
the sleep they needed according to recommended
standards. Due to the links between sleep and
depression, female athletes may be more vulnerable
to depression and anxiety symptoms (Stracciolini
et al, 2019).
In a study of 465 athletes who competed on
teams sponsored by NCAA member institutions,
23.7% reported symptoms indicative of a clinically
relevant level of depression. Of that group, 6.3%
exhibited symptoms associated with moderate to
severe levels of depression. Nearly a third of the
female athletes in this study demonstrated signs
of depression compared to 18% of male athletes
(Wolanin et al., 2016).

college athletes (125 males; 171 females) to assess

disorder (SAD). Findings revealed that 5% of college
athletes in this sample reported symptoms of
depression with 16.2% reporting a history of SAD and
10.8% reporting subsyndromal SAD. In contrast to

female and male athletes in terms of depression
Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation
Women’s Sports Foundation
WomensSportsFoundation.org
Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and
Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women
39
symptoms and male athletes exhibited more
SAD symptoms.
Data from NCAA surveys showed that 48% of female
collegiate athletes reported having depression or
anxiety symptoms in both 2008 and 2012 (Brown,
Hainline, Kroshus, & Wilfert, 2014). Cox, Ross-Stewart,
and Foltz (2017) examined a sample of 950 NCAA
athletes. They found 33.2% of athletes experienced
symptoms of depression. Additionally, 25.7% of
athletes did not know where to go to seek mental
health treatment at their institution, and 44.5%
reported not having received mental health training
from their university athletics department.
According to Edwards (2019), an analysis of data
from the American College Health Association
- National College Health Assessment for 854
college students (48 varsity athletes; 253 intramural
participants) revealed that female college
athletes as well as students of color presented

risk of mental health disorders compared to other
undergraduate populations.
Interviews with 10 current and former female college
athletes who experienced depression revealed that
the challenges associated with keeping up with
their sport and dealing with their depression left
them feeling isolated and alone, with nowhere to
go, physically drained and weary, confronted with
self-doubt, and dealing with feelings of being out of
control (Jones et al., 2014).
Beable, Fulcher, Lee, and Hamilton (2017) found that
21% of elite athletes in their study met the criteria for
moderate symptoms of depression. Additionally, 8.6%
of athletes fell within the criteria guidelines for having
a major depressive episode. The study found no

female athletes.
Tahtinen and Kristjansdottir (2019) studied the

symptoms on intentions to seek professional help
from a psychologist between athletes and non-

lower rates of anxiety and depression symptoms
compared to non-athletes. Anxiety symptoms were
found in 20.2% of athletes versus 30.7% of non-
athletes. Depressive symptoms were found in 20.9%
of the athletes in the study versus 34.1% of the non-
athletes. It is interesting to note that female athletes
with depression symptoms reported lower intentions
to seek help from a psychologist for their depression
than female non-athletes with depression symptoms.
Bader (2014) argues that sport participation can
hurt individuals who are currently or may become
depressed. If athletes with depression are forced to
perform while they are in a depressive state, it can be
harmful to their athletic performance and their ability
to manage their depression.
Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport & Eating
Disorders in Female Athletes
Female athletes are vulnerable to a medical condition
known as the Female Athlete Triad, which includes three
components: low energy availability (with or without
disordered eating), menstrual dysfunction, and low
bone density. Female athletes who may train too hard
and/or have complicated relationships with food (e.g.,
restricting food intake and types of food, bingeing, and/
or purging) risk long-term issues with osteoporosis,
bone fracture, diminished physical performance, and a
range of psychological issues (depression, anxiety, body
dsymorphia, obsession with body size, food anxiety, etc.)
(The American College of Obstetrics & Gynecology, 2017).
In 2014, an IOC expert working group introduced the

as a replacement for the term Female Athlete Triad in

health and performance that go beyond what is captured
in the Female Athlete Triad (Mountjoy et al., 2014).8
According to Mountjoy et al., (2014), “The syndrome of
RED-S refers to impaired physiological function including,
but not limited to, metabolic rate, menstrual function,
bone health, immunity, protein synthesis, cardiovascular


between dietary energy intake and energy expenditure
required for health and activities of daily living, growth


disorders as “serious and sometimes fatal illnesses
that cause severe disturbances to a person’s eating

eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa,
and binge eating disorder. The American Psychological
Association states that individuals with anorexia nervosa
... have a distorted body image that causes them to see
themselves as overweight even when they’re dangerously

restrict their caloric intake, frequently exercise, and may
refuse to eat when other people are present (American
Psychological Association, 2011).
In a study of 1,000 female athletes (aged 15-30 years)
who completed a questionnaire, those who reported
low energy availability exhibited a higher risk for a
number of health and performance issues associated
with the Female Athlete Triad compared to female
athletes reporting adequate energy availability,
8 One of the reasons for the change in terminology from
Female Athlete Triad to Relative Energy Deficiency in
Sport is the fact that RED-S includes both female and male
athletes that may exhibit components of this syndrome
(Mountjoy, 2017).
Women’s Sports Foundation
WomensSportsFoundation.org
Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and
Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women
40
including menstrual dysfunction, poor bone health,
metabolic issues, hematological detriments,
psychological disorders, cardiovascular impairment,
and gastrointestinal dysfunction. Findings from
this study are strongly associated with the health
and performance consequences proposed by the

et al., 2019).
Bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder both
involve eating excessive quantities of food. Individuals

after consuming it by vomiting or using laxatives or
enemas (American Psychological Association, 2011).
In contrast, those who have binge eating disorder do
not purge the excessive calories from their bodies
following the eating (National Institute of Mental
Health, 2017).
Eating disorders occur in both athletes and non-
athletes. Wollenberg, Shriver, and Gates (2015)
examined the pervasiveness of disordered eating
between female college athletes and non-athletes.
The sample of 376 non-athletes and 151 athletes
completed two surveys: the Eating Attitudes Test and

indicated that non-athletes had higher incidence
of eating disorders compared to athletes (16.5%,
vs. 6.6%). The results also showed that the female
athletes appeared to have better emotion regulation
skills than non-athletes which may have contributed
to the lower rates of disordered eating.
While some studies have shown that athletes may
have lower rates of eating disorders compared
to non-athletes at the collegiate level, there are

disordered eating. Wells, Chin, Tacke, and Bunn
(2015) examined 88 female varsity athletes from

the risks of disordered eating in athletes in lean

swimming, and volleyball) and non-lean sports
(basketball, golf, soccer, and softball). Results
from this study suggested that athletes in lean
sports displayed a higher risk for the development
of disordered eating compared to athletes who

disordered eating in these female athletes came from
social pressures from teammates, coaches, parents,
and the media that impacted the athlete’s exercise
and nutritional habits.
Kong and Harris (2015) also found that female
athletes from lean sports reported higher levels
of body dissatisfaction than athletes engaged in
non-lean sports (such as ball sports). Additionally,
the researchers found that this dissatisfaction
existed regardless of participation level in the sport.
The aesthetic sports of gymnastics, ballet, runners,
and synchronized swimming were found to have
higher degrees of body dissatisfaction or disordered
eating than in other sports or the general population
(Anderson, Reilly, Gorrell, & Anderson, 2016; de Bruin,
Oudejans, & Bakker, 2007; Ferrand, Magnan, Rouveiz,
& Filaire, 2007; Kong & Harris, 2015; Robbeson,
Kruger, & Wright, 2015; Varnes et al., 2013).
In contrast to much of the previous research,
Kantanista and colleagues (2018) assessed the level

female athletes from a variety of sports. They found
female athletes in aesthetic sports (synchronized
swimming, gymnastics, and dance) had a more
positive body image than the athletes in the non-


hockey). The data illustrated that the type of sport
(aesthetic versus non-aesthetic), as well as the
athlete’s age, BMI, and level of competition were

the results may be due to the fact that the “athletes
from aesthetic sports had a lower BMI than those


(Kantanista et al., 2018).
Injuries in Female Athletes
According to the Aspen Institute’s Project Play, “...in 2017,
56.5 percent of children played a team sport in some
form at least one time during the year — more than at any

evident by the research that more girls and women are
playing sport than ever before. However, an increase in
participation numbers also means more girls and women
are sustaining injuries while playing sports. An injury is

participation in an organized practice or competition; (2)

physician, or other health care professional; and (3)
resulted in restriction of the college athlete’s participation
for one or more days beyond the day of injury (Clifton et
al., 2018, p. 1039)
From the NCAA-Injury Surveillance Program (ISP) and
High School Report Information Online (HS-RIO) systems,
Clifton and colleagues (2018) collated the data generated

girls’ and women’s basketball injuries. During the period
under review, the researchers found that athletic trainers
reported 6,817 injuries in girls’ and women’s basketball.
The researchers then estimated a national injury rate for
girls and women to be 848,206 injuries during this 10-year
period (2004-05 through 2013-14).
Women’s Sports Foundation
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41
Knee Injuries (most specifically anterior cruciate injuries)
An anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury occurs when
there is a tear or sprain of the anterior cruciate ligament
in a person’s knee (Mayo Clinic, 2019). These injuries can
occur with or without contact. Most ACL injuries occur in
sports that require sudden changes in movement, sudden
stops, and jumping and landing (Mayo Clinic, 2019). An
ACL injury can also occur during a collision or when an
athlete receives a direct hit to the knee.
Women’s athletics is plagued with injury incidence
rates that are higher than those found in their male
counterparts, predominantly injuries occurring in
the lower extremities. Stanley, Kerr, Dompier, and
Padua (2016) reported the sport of women’s soccer
had an ACL injury rate of 2.55 per 10,000 athlete-
exposures (AE), which was substantially higher than
that of men’s soccer at a rate of 0.63 per 10,000 AE.
The researchers found a comparable discrepancy in
the sport of basketball (1.95 per 10,000 AE for women
versus 0.70 per 10,000 AE for men).
ACL injuries are responsible for 50% of knee injuries
and are among the most expensive sport injuries
due to the often-required surgery and rehabilitation
(Joseph et al., 2014).
An estimated 350,000 ACL injuries occur a year in
the United States (Nessler, Denney, & Sampley, 2017).
Research has shown that there is an increase in ACL
injury rates in both youth athletes and collegiate
athletes (Dodwell et al., 2014; Rugg, Wang, Sulzicki, &
Hame, 2014; Wiggins et al., 2016).
Using data from the NCAA ISP survey between 2004-
14, Gans et al. (2018) found that college athletes
experienced 1,105 anterior cruciate ligament ruptures,
126 of which were recurrent. The highest rates of
recurrent ACL ruptures (per 10,000 AEs) occurred
among male football players (15), female gymnasts
(8.2), and female soccer players (5.2). Women’s

higher rate of recurrent ACL ruptures compared to
men’s soccer players. Overall, male athletes had a

(4.3) than women (3.0).
The most common knee injuries for girls and women
participating in sport involve an ACL sprain or tear

Murray, 2016). The peak incident rates of ACL injuries
occur during high school (Beynnon et al., 2014).
Female athletes are considered an at-risk population

higher injury rate than male athletes and the general
population (Beynnon et al., 2014; Mihata, Beutler,
& Boden, 2006; Prodromos, Han, Rogowski, Joyce,
& Shi, 2007; Roos, Ornell, Gardsell, Lohmander, &
Lindstrand, 1995).
Among female athletes, research has shown that
female soccer players are at the greatest risk for an
ACL injury (Andernord et al., 2015; Brophy, Stepan,
Silvers, & Mandelbaum, 2015; Paterno, Rauh, Schmitt,
Ford, & Hewett, 2014). Allen et al. (2016) examined
subsequent ACL injuries of female soccer players
and compared those rates with female athletes from

athletes have a higher risk of reinjury (28% overall
and 34% of female soccer players who returned

non-soccer female athletes (9%), especially when
returning to competitive soccer.
Concussions
Within the United States there are an estimated 1.6 million
to 3.8 million traumatic brain injuries that occur during
sports and recreation activities (Langlois, Rutland-Brown,





& Conder, 2016, p. 89). In an overview of the research

and male athletes and how they experience concussions,
Covassin et al. (2017; 2019a) reported that several things
account for female athletes being at greater risk for
concussions in most sports, including head-neck strength
and the mechanism of injury. Female athletes are more
likely to experience concussion from contact with a ball
or playing surface while male athletes are more likely
to experience concussion as a result of contact with
another player.
Chicago Red Stars
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Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women
42
When examining concussions, research utilizes

the number of injuries in a particular category
(e.g., concussion) divided by the number of
athlete-exposures (practices or games) (Covassin,
Moran, & Elbin, 2016). Time loss refers to the total
number of days from the time a concussion was
reported to the day an athlete is cleared by a
physician or athletic trainer (Covassin et al., 2016).
After a concussion is sustained, the amount of time it

Gregory, and Solomon (2014) found that 50% of high
school athletes who sustained a concussion returned
to baseline cognitive function in 7-10 days and 90%
returned to baseline in four weeks.
Concussions are not only physical injuries that result

a concussion report post-concussion headaches
(97% for females and 95% for males), and 77% of
females and males reported feelings of dizziness
(Frommer et al., 2011).
Concussions have been studied in a variety
of populations. Marar and colleagues (2012)
compared injury rates for female and male high
school athletes. Over a two-year period, 1,936
concussions were reported. The results revealed
that in sex-comparable sports (e.g., boys’ and girls’
basketball or soccer) female athletes had a higher
incidence of concussions than male athletes did.
Lincoln and colleagues (2011) examined 25 high
school athletes over an 11-year period. They found
that girls had a higher ratio of concussions in the
sports of soccer, softball, and basketball compared
to boys.
Frommer and colleagues (2011) compared symptoms,
symptom resolution time, and time to return to
sport between high school females and males with
sport-related concussions. The researchers assessed
812 sport concussions and found there was no

reported by males or females. However, the types of


females reported higher levels of drowsiness and
sensitivity to noise.
At the collegiate level, Covassin, Moran, and Elbin

concussion injury rates. Between 2004-05 and
2008-09, there were 1,702 concussions reported.
Further analysis revealed that female athletes had
a 1.4 times higher overall concussion injury rate than
male athletes. Women’s baseball/softball, basketball,
ice hockey, and soccer had the greatest injury rates.
Additionally, when comparing female and male
soccer and basketball players, the female players

Assessing the relationship between repetitive head
impacts (RHI) and clinical concussion symptoms
among 15 football players and 23 women’s soccer
players competing at the college level revealed


visual memory and tandem gait (a measure of
potential neurological issues). In contrast, the

of RHI with King-Devick (a test involving the rapid
processing of numbers presented to a subject on

such as eye movements, language, and attention)
(Caccese et al., 2019).
In a prospective study comparing results of magnetic
resonance imaging (MRI) tests for athletes with and
without sport-related concussion (SRC), female
athletes were found to have more clinically relevant
MRI sequences indicative of mild-traumatic brain

sport-related concussions (Klein et al., 2019). The
authors caution against overgeneralizing the results
because of the relatively fewer female athletes
represented in the study (N=138 contact sport
athletes, 14 of whom were female athletes). They do,

been found elsewhere in the literature in other female
populations. They further found that “...less than 1%

on qualitative structural MRI, providing empirical
support for clinical guidelines that do not recommend

Knowledge and attitudes about concussions
(familiarity with concussion symptoms, the
implications of concussion, and the potential of
increased risk from multiple concussions) were
assessed in 72 Canadian college athletes (28 males,
44 females) in the sports of basketball, ice hockey,
and soccer. Female athletes were found to exhibit
greater knowledge about concussions as measured
on the Athlete Knowledge Test (AKT) than male
athletes but were less likely than male athletes to
translate that knowledge into action and report
that they had concussion symptoms (Jorgensen et
al., 2018). This contradicts other studies that have
concluded that female athletes are typically more

fuller reports of concussion symptoms than male
athletes (Covassin et al., 2019a).
Women’s Sports Foundation
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Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and
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43
“As a high school coach I asked
our athletic director during a
coaches meeting how the school
could justify violating Title IX
guidelines and I was told that the
school refused federal funding so
it didn’t have to comply with the
law — I was gobsmacked.
— Respondent, Female Leaders in
Sport Survey
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is
comprised of 37 words that have had a profound
impact on the educational experiences of students
by generally barring sex discrimination in schools
supported with federal funding and non-educational

Described by one author as the “little statute that

for girls and women in previously male-dominated

more girls to dream of becoming — and more women
to become — astronauts, carpenters, executives,
journalists, lawyers, mechanics, physicians,

professional athletes.
As Title IX approaches its 50th birthday in 2022, there is
no doubt that the law has had a major positive impact
on the prospects and possibilities available for girls and
women in sport. The work, however, is not yet done.
In recent years, Title IX’s protections against sex
discrimination have been brought to bear in advocacy
for trans athletes and gender non-conforming girls

legislators to ban transgender girls from school sports,
ACLU attorney Galen Sherwin and Skadden Fellow Shayna

trans athletes are “...rooted in the same harmful history of
gender discrimination and stereotyping that has impeded

Further, research shows that while school athletic
programs have become more gender equitable, shortfalls
in opportunity and funding continue to disadvantage



about what Title IX requires and does not require in terms
of equal access to athletics opportunity, equal treatment
when girls and women play sports, and equitable
distribution of athletic scholarship support, all need to
be strengthened (Trahan, 2016). This section provides an
overview of the processes used in enforcing Title IX and
Title IX regulations pertaining to athletics. Each subsection
of the report provides an introduction with research

policy consideration.
A. Title IX Enforcement: Title IX Coordinators
& the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act
Athletics, as well as club sports, intramurals, and
recreation programs, are covered under the broad
umbrella of Title IX regulations. Enforcement of Title
IX’s protections typically take on one of three forms

process conducted through a school where concerns

a designated Title IX coordinator who is charged with
education, monitoring, and oversight of the school’s Title

athletic committee comprised of administrators, coaches,
and athletes routinely conduct compliance checks and
develop plans to meet Title IX standards. The second
more costly and time-consuming method is legal action
against a school in order to remedy Title IX violations.

two federal agencies charged with Title IX enforcement,

(DOE) or the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division,
Educational Opportunities Section (Association of Title
IX Administrators, 2015; Cole & Back, 2018). Regardless
of the avenue concerned individuals follow in bringing
attention to potential gender inequality in athletic
departments, Title IX’s non-retaliation clause is designed
to create environments that encourage reporting and
prevent whistleblowers from being punished for seeking
to remedy unfair sex-discriminatory practices in athletic
departments (Rodkey, Kelly, Sonderfeld, & Staurowsky,
2019; Weight & Staurowsky, 2014).
After Title IX was passed, elementary schools were
expected to be in compliance by 1976; junior and senior
high schools by 1977, and colleges and universities by
Part II. Title IX, Its Impact on the U.S. Sport System, and
Its Enforcement
Women’s Sports Foundation
WomensSportsFoundation.org
Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and
Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women
44
1978 (Cole & Back, 2018). The historical record is replete
with evidence to show that the path to full compliance
under Title IX has been a rocky one, with setbacks and
delays (Staurowsky, 2016). One researcher referred to


Nowhere has this been seen more vividly than in the
dynamics around the appointment of a designated Title
IX coordinator by school administrators (New, 2015;

Civil Rights and DOJ’s Civil Rights Division are charged
as federal agencies with Title IX oversight, the intention
at the core of the enforcement mechanism is willing

mandate to best serve all students and to do so with a
strong and responsive monitoring system at the local
level. The lynchpin in that local Title IX enforcement
mechanism is the Title IX coordinator, a knowledgeable
and trained individual who everyone in a school
knows, who educates constituents about the law and

is disabled if school administrators, athletics directors,
coaches, athletes, parents, fans, media, and others are
uninformed or misinformed about what the law requires
(Nowicki, 2017; Staurowsky & Weight, 2011; 2013; Weight &
Staurowsky, 2014).
In 2015, schools had to be reminded again by the


well-trained Title IX coordinator and to give that
coordinator the authority and support necessary to

A series of studies assessing Title IX knowledge

members, and college athletes revealed a general
lack of knowledge about Title IX (Staurowsky &
Weight, 2011; Staurowsky & Weight, 2013; Staurowsky,
Zonder, & Reimer, 2017; Rodkey, Kelly, Sonderfeld, &
Staurowsky, 2019).
Knowing the identity of the Title IX coordinator
is critical. In a study of nearly 1100 college and
university coaches, just over 30% were aware of who
their Title IX coordinator was, and 42.8% were not
sure (Staurowsky & Weight, 2013).
According to a study of high school athletic
administrators conducted by the U.S. Government

were either unaware of who their Title IX coordinator
was or felt unsupported by their Title IX coordinator.


IX coordinators worked with athletic administrators

of an association that conducts Title IX trainings, it
was the view of the trainers that high school Title
IX coordinators’ familiarity with Title IX regulations
pertaining to athletics was low (Nowicki, 2017).
Half (50%) of NCAA Division I head coach
respondents indicated that their department did
not have a Gender Equity Committee (Weight &
Staurowsky, 2014).
Despite Title IX’s admonition that administrators
refrain from retaliating against coaches when they
bring forward concerns about Title IX compliance,
in Staurowsky and Weight (2013) 12% of coach
respondents indicated that they felt they might
lose their job if they advocated for Title IX. Further,
nearly 20% of female coaches felt they might lose
their job if they advocated for Title IX, and 35% of
coach respondents were either hesitant or believed
it was too risky to bring up Title IX issues in their
athletic department.
In a study of athletics administrators, coaches, and

Sonderfeld, & Staurowsky, 2019), 17% of respondents
(N=157) did not know who their Title IX coordinator
was, 23% were not aware that students should know
who the Title IX coordinator was, and 25% were not
aware of Title IX’s whistleblower protections.
According to Staurowsky and Weight (2013), 83% of
college coaches (N=1,093) reported that they never
received any formal training about Title IX as part of
preparation for their jobs.
When asked whether they agreed or disagreed that
they had received adequate Title IX education and
training, more than a third of NCAA Division I athletic
department personnel indicated that they disagreed
(Rodkey, Kelly, Sonderfeld, & Staurowsky, 2019).
Bridging the Gap
Women’s Sports Foundation
WomensSportsFoundation.org
Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and
Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women
45
In a study of athletics administrators (N=352),
they evidenced a higher level of basic Title
IX knowledge compared to coaches but still

Staurowsky, 2014).
Among 1,303 athletes competing on teams in the
Big Ten Conference (60.7% of whom were female),
Druckman, Gilli, Klor, and Robinson (2014) reported

knowledge among athletes about the content and


40% of college athletes from NCAA Divisions I and
III indicated that they did not know what Title IX is
(N=210) (Staurowsky, Zonder, & Riemer, 2017).
In a study of 1,615 athletes who competed on teams
sponsored by Bi