Thursday, December 03, 2009

ESPN Profiles Case of Pregnancy Discrimination in High School Sports

Via Womenstake (among other blogs) I learned that ESPN recently profiled a case of discrimination against a pregnant high school athlete in an episode of Outside the Lines. Mackenzie McCollum was a star setter on her high school volleyball team in Fort Worth, Texas, until. But when the school officials learned that Mackenzie is pregnant (from the parent of a teammate in whom Mackenzie had confided), they refused to let her play until she secured clearance from a doctor, citing a district policy. Her coach subsequently informed her team that she was pregnant, in violation of student privacy law. After Mackenzie produced a doctor's note clearing her to play, her coach was forced to let her back on the team, but he cut her playing time in half. Mackenzie and her mother believe that the district selectively applied the policy, and that the coach outed her reduced her playing time, in discrimination against her and in attempt to shame her because of her pregnancy.

Mackenzie's mother filed a complaint with the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, charging the Fort Worth school district with violating Title IX. An investigation is now underway. Mackenzie is also represented by the National Center for Women's Rights, who via its Womenstake blog add to the story that Mackenzie's missed playing not only caused her emotional anguish, but reduced her opportunity to impress college recruiters and compete for scholarships. NWLC also points out that discrimination against pregnant students (not just athletes) is common, and few people realize that it is prohibited by Title IX. In fact, it seems to me that the only time there is public pressure to comply with this aspect of the law is when ESPN runs an OTL special on it!

Helpfully, the National Women's Law Center has a resource page with guidance for schools and students on how to accommodate, protect, and nurture students who are pregnant or parenting. The NCAA has also addressed the issue of pregnant student-athletes, and produced these additional resources found here.