If You Let them Play . . .

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: It may be hard to imagine, listening to the "We got next" slogan of the new woman's professional league that begins play this Saturday, but not long ago women, when they played basketball at all, played a half-court game because it was thought their bodies couldn't stand the stress of a full-court competition. In those days, every argument about the importance of women’s sports seemed to turn on whether the average woman was capable of competing in the NFL. Twenty-five years after President Nixon signed the Title IX legislation requiring equal opportunity for women in college programs, women are signing up for sports teams faster than Nike can make commercials about it. The effects of Title IX have been staggering. In athletics, women’s participation rose from 230,000 in the early 1970s to 2.4 million last year. In other fields, from stock-trading and manufacturing to politics and journalism, Title IX opened doors for a group of talented professional women (Anchor Leslie Stahl in broadcasting is one) known as “The Class of ‘72.” The rise of U.S. women’s sports, though, is happening in a distinctly American way, to the tune of ringing cash registers. "There are pure numbers there that show women's sports are going to be a huge money maker," says TIME's Sally Donnelly. "With the prominence of the Olympics, the bean counters are realizing that people want to watch women compete." Case in point: The WNBA. The second of two woman's professional leagues to debut in the past year opens play this weekend. Backed by the NBA and a number of big name corporate sponsors, the league hopes to capitalize on the success of the Atlanta Olympics, where kids wearing jerseys with the names of women's stars Lisa Leslie and Rebecca Lobo were as common as Dream Team jerseys reading Jordan. As every NBA marketing exec knows, much of the real money in sports comes from licensing products like those jerseys. Or as these new professional athletes put it, show me the money.

  • Join TIME Online Wednesday, June 18 as we talk with Senator Carol Moseley-Braun, Olympic Gold Medalist Nancy Hogshead, and other world champion women athletes live from the Senate about the impact of Title IX