Before 1972, Molly Johnson’s career would have seemed unlikely at best, and more likely, nigh impossible.
In addition to her duties as assistant softball coach at the University of Kentucky, Johnson fields balls at shortstop for the USA Softball National Team. This weekend, she and her teammates take the field in Oklahoma City to honor the ruby anniversary of one of sports’ most monumental moments: the signing of Title IX.
Moreover, it’s a female extravaganza this weekend on the ESPN family of networks, which will host a bevy of women’s sports programs in the three-day span, the crown jewel of which is a matchup between the U.S. and Canada at the Amateur Softball Association of America Hall of Fame Stadium on Saturday.
The chance to celebrate IX is something special to every player involved; the chance to do it televised is an added bonus.
“Without Title IX I wouldn’t be in the position that I am right now, being able to play and coach,” Johnson said. “Without Title IX, I wouldn’t have had the opportunities I had growing up.”
USA pitcher Chelsea Thomas, a senior at the University of Missouri, played four sports in high school, a feat, she said, she never would have accomplished without the landmark legislation.
“I can’t even describe the feeling of being able to have those opportunities, and all the women who have fought hard to give us these opportunities have had a huge impact on where I am today,” Thomas said.
Passed in 1972, Title IX made gender equity a federal requirement in 10 areas, among them: access to higher education, career education, learning environment and employment.
One of its most visible impacts has been in the realm of women’s sports.
“Since 1972, the participation has grown 10 times from what it was, and a lot of opportunities are opening up for females in athletic departments, so more jobs are becoming available,” Johnson said.
According to its players, softball’s growth relies on upping both participation and funding. Key to those goals is magnifying exposure, making the game in Oklahoma City more significant than just a celebration.
“To have this opportunity on ESPN in front of the whole nation, it’s huge for us,” Thomas said.