Title IX turns 50: An ardent and overdue appeal for equality in esports:
SHI is committed to helping female gamers thrive. Why aren't university presidents?

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News stories marking the 50th anniversary of the passing of Title IX will mostly focus on the long-term effect this legislation had towards ensuring women’s collegiate athletic programs received equal federal funding to their male counterparts.

Which is interesting since the original text signed into law by President Nixon mentioned neither sports nor a playing field (level or otherwise):

“No person in the United States shall, based on sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Five decades later, the authors of that civil rights legislation would likely be shocked to see the discrimination and exclusion many esports athletes – especially women – face every day in the form of sustained harassment, stalking, and physical threats aimed at them by fellow gamers and direct competitors. While 70% of all online gamers report being the victim of these kinds of attacks, 53% reported being targeted specifically based on race, religion, ability, gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. The behavior is so widespread that one United Nations report claims that half of female gamers choose to intentionally hide their identity and avoid communication to limit online harassment.

Despite representing 60% of the student population of American colleges (up from 42% in 1972), women currently comprise only 8.2% of today’s college esports athletes and only 4% of all college esports coaches. Without other female teammates and coaches, woman gamers facing the systemic discrimination caused by relentless harassment have few places to turn for help to ensure they have the same opportunity not JUST to represent their school, but also to compete for the $16 million in esports scholarships being offered by over 200 universities (and counting).

There are no clear and consistent guidelines for governance, oversight, or assistance.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) – which could be influential in identifying non-compliance with Title IX in intercollegiate sports – voted not to govern college esports in 2019. (Actual enforcement of Title IX is the responsibility of the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education.) But it appears the decision of where esports “lives” is up to each individual college or university. Some institutions placed esports within their athletic department. Others assigned the oversight of esports to Student Affairs or to engineering and computer science, the latter of which often faces their own well-documented challenges with achieving anything close to gender parity as a department.

As a trusted IT partner providing the products and services that enable countless academic institutions to explore the limitless potential of esports, SHI believes it is long past time – 50 years to the day – to ensure that the promise of Title IX is extended to the entire college esports community. Whether it’s through the formation of a collegiate esports governing body, oversight by the NCAA, or – at minimum – the adoption of a universal code of conduct, it is time to demand that Title IX extends to collegiate esports the way it was intended: by ensuring equal opportunity for all.

We urge college and university presidents to revisit the correct and total application of Title IX when applied to esports, not JUST because it is the right thing to do, but because – as of 50 years ago today – it is the law of the land.

It is not often that legislation is ahead of technology. Usually, technology outpaces law while legislators stumble to catch up. That is why SHI is immediately committing to supporting organizations that advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in gaming.

Impacting change in this area will be a long journey. However, we will take the first step of that journey today by making a donation to AnyKey.org. Founded in 2015 with the goal of building a more inclusive and accessible esports world for all, AnyKey has become a leading advocacy organization for inclusion and diversity in competitive gaming and live streaming.

Over the coming weeks and months, we look forward to sharing more about how SHI is supporting educational institutions realize the opportunities and benefits that esports brings, as well as some other exciting sports-related announcements.

Melanie Yetman contributed significant research to this article.