ESPN Fifty/50 Initiative

Basketball hot shots: Rebecca Lobo, Jennifer Azzi, Sheryl Swoopes, Dawn Staley, Lisa Leslie and Ruthie Bolton

Melissa Rawlins/ESPN
June 01, 2022
In The Mix

The Fifty/50 Initiative Pays Tribute to Title IX

With the Fifty/50 Initiative, ESPN and Disney honor Title IX, which forced sports to hand the ball to girls and women. The result is a history-making library of content.

Nearly all of us, if asked, could name a few phenomenal women athletes: Serena Williams, say, or Danica Patrick, Simone Biles, Billie Jean King. But it wasn't always easy to do so.

Prior to Title IX, the landmark 1972 civil rights law that prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex at federally funded educational institutions, women's teams were not only underfunded (if they existed at all) but women were often discouraged from playing. Many people believed women were too delicate for competitive sports; some didn't even believe women faced discrimination on courts or anywhere else.

In observation of Title IX's fiftieth anniversary, ESPN and Disney are unveiling a wave of content that explores the law's impact on sports and culture at large. The Fifty/50 Initiative, appearing across Disney platforms including ESPN, ABC, Hulu and National Geographic, includes short films, podcasts, documentaries, digital and social media storytelling — even news programming on ABC-owned local stations.

All the content — produced entirely by women — will highlight the courageous and pioneering women who changed sports and the world, but the centerpieces of this massive undertaking are 37 Words, directed by Dawn Porter and Nicole Newnham, and 30 for 30: Dream On, directed by Kristen Lappas.

37 Words, a four-part series charting how the thirty-seven words in Title IX transformed women's lives and America, will air June 21 and 28 on ESPN. Dream On uses rare, previously unseen archival footage to tell how a spectacular, goldmedal-earning performance by the U.S. women's Olympic team at the 1996 Atlanta games led to the formation of the WNBA; it premieres June 15 on ESPN.

"You are going to feel like you are in a room talking to each member of that Olympic squad," says Marsha Cooke, vice-president and executive producer for ESPN Films and 30 for 30. "For every thing those women talk about — the pain, the torture, the joy, the celebration that they experienced — we have the video."

Combined, the Fifty/50 Initiative forms a kind of library that's nothing short of history-making, Cooke adds. "This can be a tool to educate people, especially young women, about their rights. We all want the girls and women in our lives to have equal access. We know that this is going to make a difference. That is the power of what we do."

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine issue #6, 2022, under the title, "Title Shot."

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