By Xander Norris
The Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics kicked off its fall lineup Tuesday night with a celebratory discussion of the 50th anniversary of federal Title IX legislation, the groundbreaking 1972 law that banned discrimination in federally-funded education programs and helped equalize the college experience for women attending public universities, especially in athletics.
The panel featured University of Mississippi athletic director Keith Carter, Ole Miss women’s basketball coach Yolette “Coach Yo” McPhee-McCuin and senior women’s basketball player Rita Igbokwe. Legendary Mississippi sportswriter Rick Cleveland moderated.
Before the passage of Title IX in 1972, fewer than 300,000 high school girls played sports; at the collegiate level, there were less than 32,000 female athletes. Now more than 3 million high school girls play sports, and women make up 43 percent of all student-athletes (compared to 15 percent before 1972).
“It’s been a remarkable transformation in American athletics,” Cleveland said.
Growing up playing sports in the Bahamas, McPhee-McCuin said women always had equality in sports, and she didn’t understand Title IX until she moved to the United States to attend college. But now, as a head coach in one of the country’s most premier collegiate sports conferences, she said she goes out of her way to ensure her players know about the law’s significance and impact.
“I want them to understand what people did before, to give them all of the things that they have now,” McPhee-McCuin said.
Igbokwe, who is starting her first year for the Rebels after transferring from the University of Pittsburgh, expressed her gratitude for everything that Title IX has provided her and her teammates.
“Our locker room looks good,” Igbokwe said. “Without Title IX, I don’t know if women would be allowed to be in the same gym as men, so I’m just truly blessed to have it with me.”
With all the progress made through Title IX over the last 50 years, controversies still linger, like the 2021 NCAA March Madness uproar over the differences in the weight room setup for the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. While the men’s weight room included several power racks with Olympic bars and weights, the women were only provided with a set of dumbbells and yoga mats.
“I think it certainly shed light and brought light to an issue that I think sometimes maybe on the women’s side they just weren’t as intentional,” Carter said. “I think it’s remedied, and we are in a much better place now, I don’t think we’ll see that happen again, but it’s a shame that it had to happen for us to have our eyes opened to that.”
Carter was a former Rebel All-American basketball player during the late 1990s. From his time as a student-athlete at Ole Miss to now, Carter said the school has worked on adding more female sports, like softball and women’s rifle, providing more opportunities for female athletes to pursue their passions. And, Carter added, they’re adding more fans every year too.
“If you go watch one of our women’s softball games,” Carter said. “It’s a lot more entertaining than baseball a lot of times; it’s a quick hour and forty-five minutes, you’re close to the action, and the young ladies are just phenomenal athletes but I just think a lot of people don’t give it a chance; I think now we are starting to see a lot more people coming to check it out and I think we are going to see a lot more progress here in the next 10, 15, or 20 years too.”
The Overby Center, which was founded in 2007 to explore the complex relationships between politicians and the press with a focus on Southern perspectives, will continue its fall slate of programs on Tuesday, Sept. 27, with a panel discussion entitled “James Meredith & the Media: Legacy of a Riot.”
All events begin at 5:30 p.m. in the Overby Auditorium and are free and open to the public.