WLP’s New Website Exposes Discrimination Against Female Athletes in Pennsylvania Secondary Schools

The Women’s Law Project is proud to present FAIR:PLAY, a new website that enables anyone to quickly and easily check if any given public secondary school in Pennsylvania may be discriminating against female athletes. We are launching the website at a kickoff party at Google’s Pittsburgh office on Wednesday, September 27.

“Discrimination against female student athletes is an ongoing, pervasive problem in far too many school districts across the state,” says Susan Frietsche, Senior Staff Attorney of the Women’s Law Project, a public interest law center dedicated to the rights of women and girls in Pennsylvania. “The problem cuts across factors like school size, budget, and location. We developed FAIR:PLAY to empower students, parents and community members to advocate for equality in sports, and hold their schools accountable for shortchanging female students.”

 Jordan Fields, 18, will speak at the event. In 2013-2014, Fields was having such a hard time at her school in New Jersey that she became a plaintiff for a lawsuit for systemic racism. These negative experiences with her teachers challenged her confidence. “I fell behind, my grades dropped,” says Fields. “Athletics turned that determination back on for me. I was reminded that I was capable of doing whatever I put my mind to. Sports helped me gain the confidence I had lost.”

“Sport is a place where young women can find their resilience,” says Addie Muti, Associate Athletic Director at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh. “It’s a place where girls can find comfort in their own skin and their own body. They discover their body is a strong tool that will carry them forward.”

How does FAIR:PLAY Work? Type the name of any public Pennsylvania high school, junior high, or middle school into the search bar, and you will be shown the Title IX gap. The Title IX gap is calculated by subtracting the percent of school-sponsored athletic opportunities filled by female athletes from the percent of female students. For comparison’s sake, the results will also display the statewide Title IX gap (which is 6.53%) and the relevant countywide Title IX gap. A double-digit Title IX gap strongly suggests that the school’s athletic program is not in compliance with Title IX. You will also be able to tell if a particular school failed to submit data at all.

Why do we need FAIR:PLAY? Since 1972, federally funded schools have been required by law to provide male and female students with equitable athletic opportunities. Forty-five years later, a disturbing number of Pennsylvania schools are still failing to comply with the law.

In 2012, the Pennsylvania Legislature passed Act 82, a state law that requires middle and high schools to annually report athletic participation data by gender and race for students in grades 7 – 12. Unfortunately, the data was compiled in ways that made it nearly impossible to review.

FAIR:PLAY is an elegant first-step toward solving a persistent problem by increasing access to relevant information, and encouraging community-driven advocacy for female athletes.

Why Does Ensuring Girls Have Access to Sports Matter? Shortchanging female students of athletic opportunities deprives them of the many benefits of sports participation. Girls who play sports are more likely to earn better grades and to graduate than girls who do not play sports. Female student athletes have higher levels of confidence and a more positive body image than women and girls who do not play sports, and lower levels of depression. Participation in sports is also linked to increased career opportunities throughout a woman’s life. High school girls who play sports experience lower rates of unwanted pregnancy, smoking, eating disorders, and substance abuse. Girls of color and girls from immigrant families are disproportionately affected by the Title IX gap.

How we created FAIR:PLAY. The Women’s Law Project, with support from the FISA Foundation, worked with undergraduate and high school student programmers and professional female coders—themselves beneficiaries of Title IX—to develop the FAIR:PLAY website during a weekend-long hackathon in February 2017.

“It was a remarkable STEM learning experience that showcased the region’s technical talent as well as the participants’ dedication to fairness and equality,” says Kristy Trautmann, Executive Director of the FISA Foundation. “We believe FAIR:PLAY will make a real difference for parents, students, teachers, coaches, and community members, by giving them the tools they need to improve opportunities for female athletes in their schools, and fight for equality.”

About the FISA Foundation: The mission of FISA Foundation is to build a culture of respect and improve the quality of life for three populations in southwestern Pennsylvania: women, girls, and people with disabilities.

About the Women’s Law Project: The Women’s Law Project is a public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

To request more information or an interview about FAIR:PLAY, discrimination against female athletes, or Title IX, contact Tara Murtha at tmurtha@womenslawproject.org. 

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About womenslawproject

The Women's Law Project creates a more just and equitable society by advancing the rights and status of all women throughout their lives. To this end, we engage in high-impact litigation, advocacy, and education.
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