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Jun 27 / Elizabeth DiNovella

Title IX and Olympic Gold

This summer we can celebrate two milestones in women’s sports.

Saturday marked the fortieth anniversary of Title IX, the groundbreaking legislation signed by President Nixon that banned sex discrimination in educational programs that receive federal funding. Title IX may be best known for transforming women’s athletics, even if that wasn’t the original intent of the legislation.

In 1972, jut one in twenty-seven girls participated in high school varsity sports, reports Women’s Sports Foundation. Today, it’s closer to two out of five girls.

In July, women’s boxing makes its debut at the Olympics. Boxing was the only Olympic sport women could not compete in at the 2008 Beijing Games.

America’s hope for the gold is Marlen Esparza. At five foot three and 112 pounds, she does not look like she could kick your ass, but you’d be wrong. She has been ranked number one in her weight class since she was sixteen.

Esparza, twenty-three, exemplifies how far women’s athletics has gone, and how far there is still to go.

She grew up in Pasadena, Texas, a working-class Hispanic city on the outskirts of Houston, and began training at Houston’s Elite Boxing Gym under coach Rudy Silva.

Silva didn’t want to take on the eleven-year-old Esparza and tried to wear the little girl out with strenuous exercise. Her intensity won him over. He’s coached her to six national amateur titles since and is now preparing her for the Olympics.

Esparza told Vogue magazine that she plans on quitting after the London Games. After the Olympics, there isn’t much more of a career for her. Male fighters can earn millions for a title bout, but women boxers rarely make more than $10,000 for a title, and they have to travel overseas to be in matches.

Acceptance of female fighters will take much longer, said Esparza. “We finally have some momentum, but I don’t think women will be considered the main event, or get paid for boxing, in my generation.” She said. “Maybe in my lifetime. We’re about 10 percent there.”

Esparza signed a contract with Nike after it was announced women’s boxing would be an Olympic sport.

(It’s disappointing that Nike celebrates women’s sports better than anybody, considering all the young women employed worldwide under not so great conditions to make Nike products.)

What’s so compelling about Marlen Esparza’s story is the stuff of sports legend: The scrawny kid from the poor side of town who trained hard and became an Olympian. The middle school punk who mouthed off to teachers till the tough love of her coach helped her develop discipline and drive, eventually becoming class president in high school and a national champion.

This is an old story. But it’s a new story, too, as women’s boxing is now an official Olympic event. Women’s boxing makes audiences squeamish. It challenges notions of feminity.

Esparza, though, has no problems being who she is. In the Vogue interview she admits to dreaming about wearing a Vera Wang dress when she gets married, even though she doesn’t have a boyfriend. She’s too busy training to have much of a social life.

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