Girls in sports: Stereotypes, barriers still exist

By Julie Fann
Star Staff

Even though girls have made enormous strides in sports over the past two decades, they still remain overshadowed by the popularity of men's sports, according to a recent study conducted by the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. In school and community-based programs, boys still receive more recognition, and opportunities, to participate in sports than girls do.
   Fortunately, the passing of Title IX legislation in 1972 that demanded equal representation for girls in school sports has caused an enormous surge in the number of girl athletes. Nevertheless, harsh economic conditions, prejudice, and institutional barriers still limit the participation of many poor girls, girls of color, and girls with disabilities. Girls now comprise about 37 percent of all high school athletes, representing an increase from one in 27 girls who participated in 1971 to one in three girls in 1994. During the same time frame, the ratio of boys remained constant at one in two.
   Pressured by the threat of lawsuits, parents and teachers have worked together to challenge long-held beliefs that "girls just aren't as physical as boys" or "sports are more important for boys than for girls." Ironically, where potential health outcomes of sport are most needed, fewer girls are involved and fewer resources are available. Also, even though national trends have been positive, they are being undermined by the growing numbers of adolescents who are becoming sedentary and obese and by an increase in the number of girls dropping out of sports.
   Athletics have been proven to reduce many problems for women. For example, girls involved in sports are less sexually active and less prone to teen pregnancy. They also develop fewer immune system disorders and suffer less from depression and emotional problems. Research also indicates that physical activity during adolescence can prevent certain cancers, osteoporosis, and heart disease in adult life.
   According to researchers, girls need to be encouraged to get involved in sports and physical activity at an early age. Coaches and physical educators also need to give girls equal access and attention, allowing them to play the important and interesting positions in a game and to receive feedback to improve their skills.
   Many of the problems girls of color experience in relation to physical activity and sport come out of poverty. Economically disadvantaged girls of color are more likely to suffer from an unsafe and unhealthy environment. The simple act of walking or jogging may be problematic in neighborhoods where crime is high. Poor girls also often don't have access to athletic resources and effective coaching.