NCAA Committee Addresses the Issue of Pregnancy in Student-Athletes
By Lois Elfman
In July, the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics reviewed concerns about how female student-athletes are being treated if they become pregnant. An article published on ESPN.com in May painted a rather bleak picture, describing athletes being told to sign contracts that stipulated pregnancy could result in the loss of an athletic scholarship. Other student-athletes described being pressured to terminate their pregnancies.
“That ESPN report did get our attention,” says Dr. Janet R. Kittell, the chairman of the CWA and the associate athletic director at Indiana University. “The notion is, now that they’ve got our attention, how can we best educate? We want to create a toolkit that can be used to educate student-athletes and staff on the legal, the medical and the expected treatment.”
For starters, Title IX protects pregnant student-athletes and clearly classifies pregnancy as a temporary disability. Consistent and equitable treatment of all student-athletes in a gender-neutral manner is essential, Kittell says, and that includes financial aid and departmental support.
In other words, unless a college or university makes it a policy of terminating the athletic scholarship of a student-athlete who has a devastating knee injury, then they cannot terminate a scholarship for pregnancy.
Not all student-athletes have had bad experiences. WNBA player Le’Coe Willingham, a 2004 graduate of Auburn University, is the mother of 5-year-old Derrick. “I was worried,” she says. “When you find out something like that, you’re initially worried about people’s reactions. I had a pretty good relationship with my coach. I was able to go to him and tell him what was going on with me. We sat down and discussed it. He asked me what I wanted to do and said that he would support me in anything that I decided to do.
“I was able to go home, take a year off and have a healthy pregnancy,” Willingham says. “Then I brought my son back to school with me. Everybody was there for me. They led me in the directions I needed to find health grants and stuff like that. They helped me with day care.” Willingham, who also plays overseas, says there were some people trying to influence her decision, but she says knowing she had the support of the coaching staff made her feel in charge of her choice.
Kittell says there are other stories like Willingham’s, and the CWA’s proposed toolkit is designed to get those stories to institutions around the nation.
There is no definite time frame for production of the toolkit, but the work has begun. Until it is completed, the CWA encourages schools to make sure their current policies are non-discriminatory.
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