These powerful words were shared by Sharon Byers, senior vice president of sports and entertainment marketing for Coca-Cola North America, at Coca-Cola’s and the NCAA’s 40th anniversary celebration of Title IX.
The Coca-Cola Company has a history championing female athletes. Whether it’s sponsoring NASCAR driver, Danica Patrick, or helping 2012 Olympians go for the gold, Coca-Cola is consistently at intersection of sports and entertainment.
Its recent collaboration with the NCAA brought sports enthusiasts, executives, and pioneers together to commemorate Title IX and its empowering impact on athletics and education. The evening began with an all-star panel presentation that included Billie Jean King, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Summer Sanders, and Cheyenne Woods. And capped off with a screening of the Title IX documentary Sporting Chance presented by Northwestern Mutual.
“Title IX is the women’s Magna Carta, because it had that kind of transformative effect on our society,” said NCAA President Dr. Mark Emmert.
Yes, whether sports fans realize it or not, Title IX has transformed our society and it has done so for the better.
Here are reflections of Title IX shared by legendary athletes of the past and present…
Billie Jean King, Tennis – Former professional tennis player who won 39 Grand Slam singles, doubles and mixed doubles tennis titles, including a record 20 titles at Wimbledon. Founded the Women’s Tennis Association (1973), the Women’s Sports Foundation (1974), and Co-founded World TeamTennis (1974), the groundbreaking coed professional tennis league.
On the passing of Title IX in 1972…I always look at pioneers who thought about it and who imagined it. I really want to thank Congresswoman Edith Green from Oregon she was called Mrs. Education without her we wouldn’t have Title IX. Senator Birch Bayh who presented the bill in the Senate. Also Senator Ted Stevens, I am really indebted to him. Patsy Mink, a Congresswoman from Hawaii and Dr. Bernice Sandler who is a civilian who helped Edith Green so much with the bill. They are my sheroes and heroes. I thank them every day for having the vision and having the fortitude to make this happen and persuade others.
On the 40th Anniversary of Title IX…This is one of the most important pieces of legislation in the 20th century. You have the vote in 1920 for women. You have the civil rights laws that were passed during the 60’s. Sex discrimination in 1963 and then in 1972 we have this educational opportunity and no longer because of gender do we not get to have our opportunity.
On Title IX’s impact on corporate America…I remember in the 50’s and 60’s as a younger person thinking “why don’t we have more doctors and lawyers that are women?” It’s so obvious if you know the history, they didn’t have the opportunity. Because of Title IX women got their education. Over half of the workforce is now women.
On Title IX and professional sports…We wouldn’t have a strong WNBA if we didn’t have Title IX. We wouldn’t have the talent pool to fill those spots and the talent pool gets better and better every year. That means the WNBA gets better and better every year. We are only in our infancy. It took the NBA 40 years to average 10,000 people a night. No one remember those days. They almost went under in the late 70’s until Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and David Stern came along – they save the NBA. We’ve got to have professional leagues make it. We have to have people that want to invest the monies and the human capital to make it happen. Unless they see us and get to know who we are we don’t have a chance to be popular. It is very important that we have professional opportunities.
On the future beyond Title IX…We are the torch bearers for Title IX because we are visible. Women athletes are visible. We have an unbelievable opportunity to help change the landscape and climate as we go through life and to create opportunities for both girls and boys. Girls have a long way to go but it’s great to celebrate.
Summer Sanders, Swimming – At the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona she emerged as the most decorated U.S. swimmer, winning four medals – two gold, a silver, and a bronze.
On the 40th Anniversary of Title IX…Title IX is plain and simple opportunity. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without sport in my life. What’s great about the NCAA and Coca-Cola celebrating the 40thanniversary is I celebrate it pretty much every day of my life.
On transitioning from swimming to broadcasting…Sport absolutely opened the door for me to fulfill my next dream. I wanted to work in television for as long as I wanted to swim in the Olympic Games. It was the next thing I wanted to do. I did swimming commentary at the NCAA championships right after I gave up my eligibility. Then I think through sport I got the guts and courage to walk into auditions.
On the legacy of Billie Jean King… I love the fact that Billie’s also teaching the next generation and giving them the words to say, things to stand for, and always remember to not take it for granted and to celebrate it.
On the future beyond Title IX…I would love to see more pro sports. I would love for women to really reach their potential and provide for themselves at the same time. I just want to make sure that we don’t go backwards. I just want to make sure that we slowly go forward and continue to educate. I want people to able to reach their potential whatever that is. It is not about money, it’s reaching your potential.
Cheyenne Woods, Golf – Professional LPGA golfer. Two-time All American from Wake Forest University. Finished her collegiate career with the lowest single-season (73.47) and lowest career scoring average (74.31) in school-history.
On the 40th Anniversary of Title IX…It means so much. I had the opportunity of growing up where female athletics were already established. There were a lot of organizations to help us, so it has meant a lot in my career growing up in women’s golf.
On beginning a career as a professional golfer…I just turned professional last month. Ladies golf is gaining popularity and it is really exciting to see people gaining interest and girls wanting to play golf. I want to be able to establish myself as an independent woman who is able to achieve my goals being a golfer. I feel that it is unique for a minority woman to be on the LPGA so that is one of my goals. I grew up playing in minority organizations and I definitely have a passion for seeing the growth of golf in the minority community.
Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Track & Field – Considered by many to be the greatest female all-around athlete in history. A four-time Olympian, who won the long jump gold medal in 1988, and long jump bronze in 1992 and 1996. In Olympic heptathlon competition she won the silver medal in 1984 and the gold medal in 1988 and 1992.
On the 40th Anniversary of Title IX…Title IX means everything when it comes to sports and academics,and being able to go to college and continue to pursue my dreams. As a young girl growing up and not knowing the impact that Title IX was going to have on my career and then how it has continued to impact generation after generation.
On growing up in East St. Louis to being an Olympian…My dream was to go to the Olympics. I didn’t know that I would win gold medals or break records and people would want my autograph or interview me. I really want to bring some of that knowledge back into the community and try to inspire others to work hard, don’t set limits and don’t let people limit you in your efforts. I want to believe I have inspired others to just keep reaching – there’s no limit.
On the future of Title IX…I felt that I was a living example. I understand the women that came before me didn’t have the opportunities that I am blessed to have. And it is very important for the generation that follows behind me to really take up learning the history. As we celebrate we also know that there are people that are lurking or in the background trying to overturn the law or trying to find a reason to set us back. As we continue to move forward, for me it is about educating young people about what Title IX is all about.
Good Night Sports Fans,