Soccer star Mia Hamm is one of the many role models female athletes have looked up to since the passage of Title IX. (AP)

Soccer star Mia Hamm is one of the many role models female athletes have looked up to since the passage of Title IX. (AP)

The numbers are impressive.

In 1972, about 30,000 women had spots on varsity rosters in college. Three decades later, that figure had jumped to over 166,000 women– an increase of about 450 percent.

Over about the same period of time, participation in sports by high school girls has increased about tenfold.

It’s important to recognize that since 1972, athletic opportunities for boys and men in schools and colleges have also increased.

It’s also significant that by some measures, girls and women still have some catching up to do. Colleges spend far more money recruiting male athletes than they do on women. The total pool of scholarship money is skewed in favor of men. Men vastly outnumber women as athletic directors and coaches of women’s teams, and silly as it may seem, lots of people still regard the idea of a female coaching men’s football, soccer, or ice hockey as bizarre, and relatively few women have had the opportunity to coach men.

On this 40th anniversary of the passage of Title IX, several beneficiaries of the legislation have been asked to comment on it. One of my favorite responses came from Meg Mallon, the pro golfer born in 1963. She was one of seven girls in her town who played Little League baseball with boys who, she reported, “didn’t want to play with us.”

“Fast forward to the 1999 World Cup,” Mallon said, “and you see young boys wearing Mia Hamm jerseys. It’s wonderful.”

Female athletes younger than Meg Mallon can’t imagine not having the opportunity to play from toddlerhood on. That’s pretty wonderful, too, albeit only fair, and fairness is the point on which I’d like to close. I can’t improve on the words of Arlene Gorton, who was the athletic director at Pembroke College and then the associate athletic director at Brown University. You heard her earlier in the program, but her words are worth repeating. “Think of a family,” she told me. “A family doesn’t support some of their children better than their other children.”

No, if fairness is the goal, a family doesn’t do that, and neither should a high school, a university, an employer, or an electorate. The principle should hold in athletic endeavors, in educational opportunities, and in career paths: fairness. It seems obvious, doesn’t it?