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"Finishing Last: Girls of Color and School Sports Opportunities"

May/June 2015 issue of Poverty & Race

A new report from PRRAC and the National Women’s Law Center uncovers another cost of the increasing racial separation in American schools—a sharp disparity in sports opportunities for girls in racially isolated schools. The report demonstrates that at both the state and national level, heavily minority high schools (defined as 90%+ minority) typically provide fewer sports opportunities—defined as spots on teams—compared to heavily white schools. Heavily minority schools also allocate these spots less equally between boys and girls, leaving girls of color especially shortchanged. The report shows how this lack of access to school sports has long-term consequences for girls’ health, academic success and economic security.

“Too many girls of color across the country are missing out on the lifelong benefits of playing sports—better health, improved academic and employment outcomes, higher self-esteem and leadership skills,” said NWLC Vice President for Education and Employment Fatima Goss Graves. “This disturbing reality should be an urgent wake-up call for schools across the country to stop shortchanging girls of color and give them what they need, deserve and are entitled to under the law.”

From the Executive Summary:

“Our nation’s schools remain highly segregated along racial and economic lines, and schools with high concentrations of minority and low-income students generally have fewer resources for academic and extracurricular activities. Opportunities to play sports, which provide valuable benefits, are diminished for all students at these schools, but are particularly limited for girls. In fact, when it comes to girls
of color and chances to play school sports, the reality is bleak: they receive far fewer opportunities—defined as spots on teams—than white girls, white boys, and boys of color. It is an inequality that has gone largely undocumented due to limited research. This report uses an innovative research strategy—identifying high schools where the student body is either 90 percent or more white or 10 percent or less white—to show the lack of sports opportunities on the basis of race and gender.

“While heavily minority schools typically have fewer resources and provide fewer spots on teams compared to heavily white schools, they also allocate those fewer spots unequally such that girls of color get less than their fair share. So even though girls overall still receive fewer opportunities to play sports than boys, girls in heavily minority schools are especially shortchanged….

“These national inequities persist at the state level. Thirteen states have a substantial number (20 or more) of both heavily minority and heavily white high schools, which allows for a comparison of the relative opportunities offered to girls and boys in these schools. These thirteen states are Alabama, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas. In all of them, a greater share of heavily minority high schools have large female opportunity gaps as compared to heavily white schools…..

“The systematic failure to treat girls, and especially girls of color, in an equitable manner deprives them of the many positive health, academic and employment outcomes associated with playing sports. It is vitally important—and legally required by federal civil rights laws prohibiting sex (Title IX) and race (Title VI) discrimination—that states and school districts provide students with equal opportunities to play sports in school. This report provides recommendations to help decision makers at the federal, state and local levels fulfill their obligations to do so.”

The full report is available at

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