Girls of Color Are Not Getting Equal Chances to Play School Sports, NWLC Report Shows

National Womens Law CenterNationwide, 40 percent of heavily minority schools have large athletics gaps for female students, compared to only 16 percent of heavily white schools

(Washington, D.C.) Girls of color are finishing last when it comes to the opportunity to play sports in high school, according to a new report released today by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) and the Poverty & Race Research Action Council (PRRAC). Finishing Last: Girls of Color and School Sports Opportunities shows that at both the state and national level heavily minority schools 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. This means that girls of color receive far fewer spots on teams than white girls, white boys and boys of color. 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.”

“This report reveals another hidden cost of segregation that we have tolerated for too long,” said PRRAC Executive Director Philip Tegeler. “But there’s some good news: policymakers, communities and schools can take positive and practical steps to address these disparities and make a real difference in girls’ lives.”

The report reveals that:

  • Girls at heavily minority high schools* have:
    • Only 39 percent of the opportunities to play sports as girls at heavily white schools
    • Only 67 percent of the opportunities to play sports as boys at heavily minority schools
    • Only 32 percent of the opportunities to play sports as boys at heavily white schools
  • Nationwide, the share of heavily minority schools with large athletic opportunity gaps for female students is more than double the share of heavily white schools with large gaps (40 percent v.16 percent). A large opportunity gap is defined as a gap of 10 percentage points or more between the share of girls in the student body and the share of spots on teams allocated to girls.

The report also analyzes the 13 states that have a substantial number (20 or more) of both heavily minority and heavily white high schools. In each of these states the share of heavily minority schools with large female opportunity gaps is larger than the share of heavily white schools with large female opportunity gaps—and in eight states it is more than double.

New York shows the greatest disparity—40 percent of heavily minority high schools have large female opportunity gaps v. 5 percent of heavily white high schools. The other 12 states include Alabama (81 percent v. 34 percent), Illinois (32 percent v. 23 percent), Louisiana (48 percent v. 27 percent), Massachusetts (27 percent v. 6 percent), Michigan (57 percent v. 16 percent), Mississippi (79 percent v. 35 percent), New Jersey (47 percent v. 7 percent), North Carolina (77 percent v. 17 percent), Ohio (34 percent v. 26 percent), Pennsylvania (33 percent v. 18 percent), Tennessee (50 percent v. 47 percent), and Texas (47 percent v. 20 percent).

* Heavily white high schools have a student body that is 90 percent or more white. Heavily minority high schools have a student body that is more than 90 percent minority.
The National Women’s Law Center is a non-profit organization that has been working since 1972 to advance and protect women’s equality and opportunity. The Center focuses on major policy areas of importance to women and their families including economic security, education, employment and health, with special attention given to the concerns of low-income women. For more information on the Center, visit: