Tuesday, November 18, 2008

NCAA Releases Resources and Model Policies Regarding Pregnant Student Athletes

As we noted last summer, the NCAA responded to concern for recent instances of discrimination against pregnant student athletes by deciding to employ an informational approach rather than regulation to assist its member institutions avoid violating Title IX's protections for pregnancy. True to its word, the NCAA has now published a "toolkit" that includes resources like information about the physical and emotional challenges of pregnancy, medical information on the safety of exercise and training during pregnancy, and model language for including in the institution's athlete handbook. The toolkit also includes a Model Policy that member institutions can adopt as their own approach for dealing with pregnant and parenting student athletes.

Specifically, by adopting the Model Policy, member institutions agree to a presume that a pregnant athlete is able and entitled to participate fully on the team. Only in cases where medical evidence demonstrates that her participation would be unsafe may her participation be limited. The Model Policy also ensures that universities cannot make athletes sign contracts not to get pregnant or revoke scholarships because of pregnancy. Moreover, the Model Policy clarifies that athletic departments must regard pregnant student athletes like any other athlete with a temporary disability, honoring medically excused absences and temporary medical leave, making reasonable modifications to the training and workout regimen, and providing medical assistance, counseling, and rehabilitation services. Recognizing that discrimination against pregnant athletes is a broader issue than just whether or not the athlete is barred from playing or receiving her scholarship, the Model Policy also protects pregnant athletes from harassment, retaliation, threats, pressure and shame. The Model Policy also affirms that discrimination on the basis of one's status as a parent is expressly prohibited as well. So, male as well as female student athletes are protected against losing their scholarships because of their status as parents.

The Model Policy is commendable for its breadth, for its strong position on inclusion of pregnant athletes, and for its strong statement against discrimination against parenting students regardless of gender. Because the policy is really just a clarification of what Title IX already requires, it is in the interest of colleges and universities to adopt and implement the Model Policy and to avail themselves of the additional resource the toolkit provides.