Longtime WSU Athletic Director Gave Female Student Athletes The Chance To Compete

Joanne Washburn was one of the biggest pioneers in bringing equality to women’s college sports. 

She was the athletic director at Washington State University  from 1965 to 1982. Over that time, she brought in multiple female sports and grew the department’s budget to account for them. After her time in administration, she taught as a professor in physical education, and retired in 2004. Washington State University inducted Washburn into the university’s Hall of Fame in 2011 for her work advocating for gender equality on campus. 

The women’s sports pioneer passed away on September 15th, 2020, at 83 years old. 

“Jo Washburn should be remembered as a giant in college athletics history,” WSU Director of Athletics Pat Chun said in a statement. “She fought tirelessly for gender equity and ultimately impacted change that continues to benefit generations of student-athletes. Jo’s legacy and impact will be forever felt at Washington State University and throughout college athletics.

One of her most historic actions during her lifetime as the athletic director of the school was when she filed a lawsuit against the athletic department for not complying with Title IX regulations.

The lawsuit, titled Blair v. Washington State University became one of the biggest cases that changed the way women’s sports were viewed around the country. Washburn noticed that women’s sports were treated like they were second-class citizens. Title IX was supposed to grant them the same access to things like facilities and equipment. When the school failed to do so, Washburn, along with 12 coaches and 39 athletes, took WSU to court

The intentions of the case were to provide better conditions for female athletes. The men’s teams traveled in team buses, had private locker rooms, free uniforms and had scholarships available to their athletes. None of that was the same for the female athletes at the school. 

The female sports representatives from the school won the lawsuit. This set the standard for women’s college athletics in the state of Washington for the years to come. 

The case was reopened and brought to the Supreme Court in 1987. This time, it argued that the football team should not be excluded in the calculations of scholarship money awarded to female student athletes. They won again, growing the budget for scholarships for the female athletes. 

Today, Washington State University has nine female sports that compete in the PAC-12 Conference: Basketball, cross country, golf, rowing, soccer, swimming, tennis, track and field and volleyball compared to six varsity male sports. Washburn’s legacy is sure to impact girls and young women for generations to come. 

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