Lori Lightfoot’s hope for next 50 years of Title IX is more women in leadership roles

Mayor, first lady Eshleman announced Chicago Title IX week is coming in July.

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot smiles at constituents and supporters during a campaign stop with First Lady Amy Eshleman on June 8 at Starlight Restaurant in the Ashburn neighborhood.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and first lady Amy Eshleman agree that one of the most pressing issues regarding Title IX at the youth level is education.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Chicago first lady Amy Eshleman remembers spending hours at the baseball field watching her younger brother play on his Little League team. She was in elementary school and knew sitting on the bleachers, watching, that she could throw, hit and field the ball better than he could.

She was relegated to watching.

Growing up in Sterling, Illinois, Eshleman didn’t get an opportunity to play team sports until she was in middle school. She spent a lot of time working on her athletic abilities individually.

“[A lot of time] working hard on hitting the tennis ball against the backboard and shooting a lot of baskets in my driveway until middle school happened,” Eshleman said. “That was right when Title IX was passed. I didn’t understand Title IX at the time, but I understood what it was about — opportunity.”

Eshleman went to state all four years at Sterling High School and played on that school’s title-winning basketball team in 1977.

Similarly, Mayor Lori Lightfoot recalls not playing organized softball until the summer after sixth grade, but it wasn’t until she was in college that she really began to understand Title IX. She said opportunities to play sports existed growing up, but good coaching and adequate resources were an afterthought.

Both women credit their experience playing organized sports for teaching them life skills that have helped them achieve all that they have.

“Having grown up in a town where high school football was all that mattered, any other sport, boys or girls, was an afterthought,” Lightfoot said. “Many times, my coaches were football coaches who were trying to make a little extra coin and a stipend. But were they truly committed to making sure that myself and my teammates developed, I can’t say that was true.”

Lightfoot and Eshleman agree that one of the most pressing issues regarding Title IX at the youth level is education. Many student-athletes aren’t aware of the power they have when it comes to reporting inequities between girls’ and boys’ sports programs.

On Thursday, Lightfoot and Eshleman announced Chicago Title IX week, which will include a series of events to honor Title IX’s 50th anniversary.

Throughout the week of July 17, events will take place throughout the city that aim to highlight the impact of Title IX and educate Chicagoans about their rights under this law. Events include a public panel with Olympic gold medalist and Blackhawks player development coach Kendall Coyne Schofield, former Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw and USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan, and a screening of the documentary produced by Candace Parker’s production company, Baby Hair Productions, titled ‘‘Title IX: 37 Words That Changed America.’’

Lightfoot said her administration has been discussing ways to celebrate the 50th anniversary since the beginning of the year, adding that Eshleman took on the planning efforts.

They also will be giving out three Title IX Hero Awards to Billie Jean King, Doug Bruno and Parker.

“The passage of Title IX in 1972 made a difference in my life and in the lives of women, girls and families throughout the nation,” King said. “It’s an honor to join Mayor Lightfoot in celebrating the 50th anniversary of one of the most important pieces of legislation of the 20th century.”

Eshleman said that the Chicago Park District also will be doing a week of day camps spotlighting Title IX. Chicago Public Libraries will be putting together a resource guide where students and their families can learn about the law and resources if inequities are present.

Programming will continue to be added, Eshleman said.

Quantifying the effects of Title IX is an impossible task because of the opportunities it has created for countless young women whose stories never will be visible. Over the next 50 years, Lightfoot’s hope for the effect Title IX will have on society is simple and would correct one of the biggest shortfalls in equity today.

“I would like to see more women in leadership,” Lightfoot said. “Not just as coaches, but athletic directors, decision-makers and policymakers.”

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