Without Title IX, Laila Ali tells University of Michigan audience, 'I wouldn't be me'
Angela J. Cesere | AnnArbor.com
That question was raised by Laila Ali, former world champion boxer and president of the Women’s Sports Foundation, at the University of Michigan’s Rackham Auditorium on Wednesday.
Ali admitted a lack of psychic ability, so drew on her own personal experience to best answer the question.
It wasn’t long ago that the 34-year-old youngest daughter of Muhammad Ali, surprisingly, didn’t have sports in her life.
“Growing up I never played sports,” Ali said. “One thing I can tell you is where I would not have been if I would have participated in sports (growing up), and that’s in trouble.”
Ali’s speech kicked off “Title IX at 40,” a three-day conference hosted by the SHARP Center for Women and Girls at the University of Michigan, which aims to highlight the broad effect the legislation had on society in its 40 years of existence. The conference also aims to address the work that still needs to be done to promote opportunities for females in athletics.
Ali spoke of her life before boxing, when she said bad choices, bad grades and even a three-month stint in juvenile hall were all due to a lack of structure. Structure that she believes athletics could have provided.
Despite the fact that her father is arguably the greatest boxer of all time, it wasn’t until Ali was 18 years old -- while watching a Mike Tyson match on television with friends -- that she was first exposed to female boxing.
It changed her life.
“We didn’t realize there were women on the undercard and I just remember I instantly was excited about the idea of women’s boxing,” Ali recalled. “I didn’t know that women fought. ... I just remember wanting to do it and feeling like I could do it.
“They fought their hearts out and that really left an impression on me,” Ali said.
Ali’s father is one of the most influential athletes of all time, but it took witnessing two women -- total strangers -- to empower her and start down the path to who she would become.
She became an undefeated four-time world champion, and since then has become a television personality, advocate for women’s sports, wife, mother and much more.
So where would she be without Title IX?
“When we talk about Title IX and sports, I think 'Where would I have been without boxing?' The first thought that comes to mind is, 'I wouldn’t be me,'” Ali said. “I proved to myself through boxing that I can always win, whether I’m in the ring or out of the ring.”
Recognizing the confidence, perseverance, and empowerment learned through athletics was Ali’s message as was recognizing how important Title IX was to making that possible.
Angela J. Cesere | AnnArbor.com
Julia Darnton, a member of the Michigan women’s rowing team, introduced Ali to those in attendance and spoke of the impact Title IX has had on her life.
“My whole life I grew up idolizing women athletes,” said Darnton, a Pioneer High School graduate who was joined by her rowing teammates at Wednesday’s event. “Personally, I definitely would not be as confident as I am. I wouldn’t be as successful. I definitely wouldn’t have the academic background and the discipline that I do.
“Basically I feel like my entire identity has been built because of (Title IX). Without Title IX, I wouldn’t be myself.”
Darnton, a recent graduate, will soon begin work at Game On Sports Camps 4 Girls, offering more opportunities for females in athletics as Title IX has done since 1972.
Similarly, the next two days of the conference will be dedicated not only to recognizing the impact Title IX has had on the past 40 years, but also on what lies ahead.
“We have a lot more work to do,” Ali said.