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Posted on Wed, May 9, 2012 : 9:35 p.m.

Without Title IX, Laila Ali tells University of Michigan audience, 'I wouldn't be me'

By Pete Cunningham


Laila Ali, former world champion boxer, president of the Women's Sports Foundation and daughter of Muhammad Ali, delivers the keynote speech to kickoff "Title IX at 40" at Rackham Auditorium.

Angela J. Cesere |

Where would female athletics be without Title IX, the groundbreaking legislation that in 1972 mandated equal treatment of the sexes in federally funded programs?

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.


University of Michigan rower Julia Darnton introduced Laila Ali to the crowd at Rackham Auditorium

Angela J. Cesere |

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.

Contact Pete Cunningham at or by phone at 734-623-2561. Follow him on Twitter @petcunningham.


Scott Laux

Fri, May 11, 2012 : 12:18 p.m.

Silly. There are no woman's boxing programs because of title IV. it had no effect on her whatsoever. These sports cost a tremendous amount of money. Intramural sport do and would provide much more benefit for the buck.

Terri Eagen-Torkko

Mon, May 14, 2012 : 11:48 p.m.

Title IV has nothing to do with this.


Thu, May 10, 2012 : 8:44 p.m.

Things certainly have changed. When I was in high school, 'girls' basketball rules allowed a player only two dribbles, and then the ball had to be passed to another player. Apparently internal female organs couldn't take the strain of competitive sports back in those days.

Terri Eagen-Torkko

Thu, May 10, 2012 : 8:02 p.m.

For those interested, Bernice Sandler's 4:30 pm lecture is live-streamed here:

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, May 10, 2012 : 11:33 a.m.

furthermore your headline is inaccurate. It reads "Without Title IX, Laila Ali tells University of Michigan audience, 'I wouldn't be me" according to the story she actually said..."'Where would I have been without boxing?' The first thought that comes to mind is, 'I wouldn't be me "

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, May 10, 2012 : 11:29 a.m.

I have 3 adult daughters who played sports from the time they were little through high school. I am all about Title IX and will defend it against any of my neanderthal peeps. Having said that I wonder if Title IX has ever had any connection to women's boxing. I don't think it has, but I am happy to be corrected. To suggest it had an indirect influence is mildly insulting to all the women who ever won Olympic medals prior to 1976. It also begs the question why she "Growing up... never played sports," Title IX was 6 years old when she was born. Again I am a title IX honk, I'm just not sure Laila Ali ever took advantage of its opportunity. So I wonder why she was a speaker?

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, May 10, 2012 : 6:57 p.m.

"Without Title IX, you probably wouldn't have the WNBA or the Women's World Cup or pro women's boxing." we will disagree. World Cup Soccer is just that, a world event that far exceeds title IX 's USA sphere of influence. I might agree the WNBA was boosted by Title IX but not women's boxing. It was boosted strictly by money. The idea that men would pay to see women beat the snot out of each other. Title IX has nothing to do with that. There is no women's boxing competition in American schools or universities sanctioned as sport.


Thu, May 10, 2012 : 4:22 p.m.

Title IX not only created tangible opportunities for female sports in schools, but helped further women's sports in general. Without Title IX, you probably wouldn't have the WNBA or the Women's World Cup or pro women's boxing.


Thu, May 10, 2012 : 3:37 a.m.

At the risk of pointing out the obvious, Laila Ali is where she is today because she is Laila Ali, not Title IX. Not since Natalie Cole has someone used the star power of a parent to cultivate a career with no real accomplishments that stand on their own. Women's boxing champion? Women's boxing is an afterthought. With all due respect to womens boxers that sport has never been taken seriously and Ali herself fought Joe Frazier's daughter (another non-boxer) in a sham sporting event based on a watching a train wreck happen. And according to many, boxing writers and fans have repeatedly expressed disappointment in Ali's ducking the top contenders throughout her career. Women's boxing has never been popular and her brief moment in the sun did not lead to an increase in popularity for the sport nor new competitors. This is her major accomplishment? A few Nike commercials where she "shares" time with her famous dad led to this "career" where she continues to live off nothing more than a bloodline. Yes, she was the perfect person to talk about Title IX ... unless you actually think about it,

Terri Eagen-Torkko

Thu, May 10, 2012 : 11:36 a.m.

Hi, lumberg! If you're interested in hearing from the experts about Title IX and women's sports, please join us at Rackham today or tomorrow morning. Find me near registration in the lobby and I'll comp you the event of your choice. You can find a full schedule here: If you aren't in town or can't make the conference, we're live streaming (and posting for later viewing) Amy Berman (9 a.m. today), Bernice Sandler (4:30 p.m. today) and James Delany (12:30 p.m. today). Laila Ali's lecture will be on our website shortly, if it's not already.


Thu, May 10, 2012 : 10:45 a.m.

I don't disagree completely, as far as how she's benefited from the Ali name. But if there weren't women's boxing or some market for women's sports--even as an afterthought--then there probably wouldn't be a vehicle for her to be in the public eye. There are lots of celebrity children who make news by doing stupid stuff; even if you don't respect her career, at least she's leveraged her good fortune by doing something positive.


Thu, May 10, 2012 : 2:53 a.m.

Yes, title IX, great in some cases of getting female sports going. However where I come from, there weren't enough female athletes to fill teams, so they just cancelled male teams. Yup, in my school women were hounded to play sports they didn't want to, just to keep the men's teams.

Brian Hall

Thu, May 10, 2012 : 1:46 p.m.

Terri, While you are correct in that men and boy's participation is higher now than 40 years ago, that doesn't tell the whole story about how title 9 has been bad for men's athletics. Men's participation is higher because the population today is larger than 40 years ago and consequently the college population is higher. Men's sports participation is NOT higher today than 40 years ago as a percent of male college enrollment. Furthermore, outside of major colleges, you would be hard pressed to find a men's varsity soccer, cross country or wrestling team. These are sports that are of interest to boys in high school that are not available in college. This interest just doesn't suddenly disappear. These same colleges provide women's cross country and soccer.

Terri Eagen-Torkko

Thu, May 10, 2012 : 11:31 a.m.

Joe, men's and boys' participation in athletics is much higher now than it was 40 years ago. In fact, more women's than men's teams were cut this past year. If you're interested in hearing more, please join us at Rackham today or tomorrow morning. Come and find me near registration and I'll comp you the event of your choice. Today features Amy Berman of OCR, B1G Commissioner James Delany and "Godmother of Title IX" Bernice Sandler. Hope to see you soon!


Thu, May 10, 2012 : 1:51 a.m.

I really don't believe that without title IX she wouldn't be who she is today. She seems like and intelligent, capable, and charming you lady. I guess I give her more credit than she gives herself.


Thu, May 10, 2012 : 9:59 a.m.

Lots of intelligent, capable, and charming young women never reach their potential because they lack the confidence to assert themselves in a society that is largely controlled by men (despite a female majority). Sports (among other pursuits) provides a space for them to cultivate the assertiveness and confidence that is often associated with being a man, but which is really just part of being a strong person.