White House celebrates Title IX, WNBA President Laurel Richie on the legislation

This week marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX, the legislation that opened up opportunities for women in sports, and the White House celebrates this milestone with an event that includes women’s basketball notables such as Louisville player Shoni Schimmel and WNBA president Laurel Richie.

Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to President Obama & chair of the Council on Women & Girls, and Tina Tchen, chief of staff to the First Lady and executive director of the Council on Women and Girls, will host the event at 2:00 p.m. The White House will have a webcast of the celebration at www.whitehouse.gov/live.

Richie wrote an op-ed about the legislation:

They come to us with flash and stamina and skill, racing and spinning down the court as effortlessly as you or I take a walk down the street, the best women amateur basketball players in the world ready to become the best professional basketball players in the world. They show up to the draft ready to showcase their skills on a global platform that reaches homes in more than 200 countries and territories.

These are the women of the WNBA, and it is easy to see them as we meet them – as athletes able to compete with the very best. But no one is born so lucky or so skilled. Behind the fluid dribbling and effortless jump shots and soaring blocks are years of sprints and drills, countless defeats and hard-won victories, long bus rides, and the echo of a basketball in an empty gym as they lobbed thousands of shots to perfect their form.

And this week, as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of Title IX and all it has done for women’s athletics and for women in the United States – and, by extension of inspiration, elsewhere – it is informative to remember that Title IX was not always what it is today. Title IX is grown-up now – an elite player that has acted as the figurative point guard for two generations of women, dishing assists to help them reach their full potential – but it was not always so.

The legislators who passed this act, bold as they were, knew that they were hardly waving a magic wand when they signed this law. They pushed Title IX into position, like a rock ready to be rolled uphill, but then they moved on to other pressing matters of governing, and it was up to the gigantic collective effort of thousands to get it to the top.

And they did. Countless women – with the help of a lot of men – slowly, steadily, built the cultural acceptance of women’s sports that we enjoy today. They did not have giant arenas to play in and the backing of corporate partnership dollars. There was a time when the head coaches at major women’s college basketball programs treated injuries, drove buses, inflated balls, and laundered uniforms. They were doctor, driver, event coordinator, and coach, building success one taped ankle at a time, slowly growing the prestige and on-the-court success that justified the day-to-day support that men’s programs had long taken for granted.

So, today, in a world in which a women’s professional basketball league not only can exist, but does exist; not only can thrive, but does thrive; not only can thrill fans from coast to coast, but does, I want to thank not only those who had the foresight to spur change through visionary legislation, but those who pushed that boulder up the hill.

As I think you know, we’re not quite at the top yet. But we’re a long way from the bottom – far enough that the crash would disrupt the world well beyond women’s sports were we to let go of the rock and let it plunge to the bottom of the mountain.

Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen. I invite you to join us as we continue to push up that long hill to the summit. The view from the top, I’m sure, will be fabulous.

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