Study finds newspaper editorials miss mark on Title IX

University Park, Pa. — Although most newspaper editorials tend to support Title IX at face value, a study conducted by the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State suggests those same editorials include assumptions about the law that are incorrect.

The study, titled "The Rhetoric and Idology Behind Title IX: An Analysis of U.S. Newspapers Editorials, 2002-2005," is published in the spring edition of Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal and analyzes editorials related to Title IX.

Title IX, passed in 1972, ensures equal funding and opportunity for males and females in any program at a government-funded institution. The law has been applied to sports programs and has come to symbolize the struggle for inclusion of female participants on playing courts and fields across the United States.

In the study, researchers found that although the editorials generally supported Title IX most still framed the law using assumptions damaging to women's sports. Editorials often assumed that male participants own sports and positioned female participants as outsiders.

For example, a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial from 2002 argued that differing interest levels among men and women made the law unfair to men. Another 2002 editorial, in the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, asked boys to "share, not surrender, their field," and a 2003 editorial in The Christian Science Monitor told readers that "without Title IX, the past three decades also wouldn't have seen so many universities shut down men's swimming and golf teams in order to meet the requirements for gender equity the law supposedly provides."

However, most research regarding Title IX shows that high school and college programs continue to gain both male and female participants and those programs still favor male athletes with scholarships and opportunities. In addition, few of the editorials reviewed in the study acknowledged the role that football programs and their large budgets play at the university level in cuts to men's Olympic and lower-profile sports such as golf and swimming teams.

"Many of those cuts in men's Olympic sports have been blamed on Title IX, and that's not necessarily true," said Erin Whiteside, a graduate student in the College of Communications and the study's lead author. "Left unchecked, faulty assumptions about Title IX will make it difficult to support in the long run. As long as the law is seen as forcing a situation that is not natural and as penalizing boys and men, it is open to continuing legal challenges and, possibly, erosion of public support."

The study used a textual analysis to examine editorials appearing in newspapers across the country from 2002 to 2005 -- a time span chosen because of events that created a spike in news coverage, beginning with the 30th anniversary of the law in 2002.

That same year the Bush administration commissioned a report to examine the law. The report was released in 2003. During the following two years (2004 and 2005) there was one Supreme Court challenge to Title IX. 

Considered a public domain, the opinion page can be influential in changing or supporting various social issues and provides a forum for reader feedback and commentary. The research included all 53 editorials that were loaded on the Lexis Nexis newspaper database in the three-year period of the study. The database included editorials by top-circulation, national papers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, and by regional papers such as the Tampa (Fla.) Tribune and The Oregonian in Portland. Whiteside and Marie Hardin, an associate professor in the College of Communications and associate director of research for the Curley Center, conducted the study.

Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal is published by the National Association for Girls and Women in Sport. The organization conducted its national meeting April 8 to 12 in Fort Worth, Texas.

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Last Updated March 19, 2009