INDIANAPOLIS — Evan Bayh was 16 years old, dashingly handsome and a student at an elite college preparatory school for boys in Washington, D.C.
Life was grand in the summer of 1972, worries were few except…his dad.
Birch Bayh, Jr., had something heavy weighing on his mind. Evan Bayh knew that. He lived those days leading up to June 23, 1972.
He remembers his parents’ serious discussions at the dinner table as Birch Bayh and his mom, Marvella, would concoct political strategies over roast beef and potatoes.
He remembers their passionate talks that swirled around Title IX, a bill U.S. senator Birch Bayh had authored and that he wanted desperately to be passed.
Birch Bayh was in a furious fight to change the world.
That’s how his dad saw Title IX, Evan Bayh told IndyStar this month, he saw a world where half the population was being excluded from too many things — athletics, academic opportunities, equal treatment.
“That just fundamentally offended him. He was offended for women,” said Evan Bayh, former Indiana governor and U.S. senator. “That’s not how the world should work, man or woman, it should be equal. He had this innate, incredible sense of fairness and justice.”
More:Marvella Bayh was Title IX’s secret weapon: She died at 46, never seeing the impact it had
‘He wanted to level the playing field’
Birch Bayh had been an athlete, playing intramural sports at Purdue, and later boxing in the Golden Gloves. His dad, Birch Bayh, Sr., had been an athlete, too.
The elder Bayh played and coached basketball at Indiana State and was later the school’s athletic director. Bayh, Sr., went on to be the director of physical education for Washington, D.C., public schools, where he testified before Congress that girls should have the same opportunities for physical fitness as boys.
“Little girls need strong bodies to carry their minds around just like little boys,” the senior Bayh said.
Birch Bayh never forgot his father’s words.
Years later, married to Marvella, Birch Bayh listened as she talked about the discrimination she faced as she looked for colleges to attend. At the University of Virginia, she was told, “Women need not apply.”
His dad hated that, Evan Bayh said. And he hated that women, too, were being shortchanged when it came to sports.
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In 1971, Birch Bayh started crafting Title IX, a bill that would give women the same opportunities as men.
The bill prohibited sex-based discrimination in academics, sports or any other program that received funding from the federal government.
“He wanted to level the playing field, the rules of equality,” Evan Bayh said. “He said, ‘Our country should be based on people as people, nothing else.”
‘Fight for what is right’
Even in his charmed world in D.C., where the charismatic Bayhs were often compared to the Kennedys, Evan Bayh never wondered whether life was fair. He knew it wasn’t.
He grew up listening to his father lament the way girls and women were treated, he watched as his father fought for Title IX.
And he watched as it was passed and, slowly but surely, started making an impact on women in education and athletics.
But his dad also fought for so much more. “Title IX is certainly one of his proudest accomplishments,” Evan Bayh said. “But there were others.”
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Birch Bayh became the only lawmaker since the Founding Fathers to author two amendments to the U.S. Constitution — the 25th Amendment on presidential and vice presidential succession and the 26th Amendment that lowered the voting age from 21 to 18.
That was another bill Evan Bayh remembers being so important to his dad.
“Hundreds of thousands of 18-, 19-, 20-year-old men are fighting in Vietnam for our country and they couldn’t vote,” Evan Bayh said. “He said, ‘if you could die for your country, you ought to be able to vote.'”
Around the dinner table, Evan Bayh listened to his dad and mom talk about all of it, Title IX, those constitutional amendments and the way life should be, if it were fair.
“I admired both of them. They were the inspiration for me to go into politics, to help the state and the country be all that it can be,” Evan Bayh said. “They taught me you can make a difference with your life, help other people and fight for what is right.”
Follow IndyStar sports reporter Dana Benbow on Twitter: @DanaBenbow. Reach her via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.