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What Democrats' vote against women reveals about the future of sports

OpinionWhat Democrats' vote against women reveals about the future of sports

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On March 22, all 51 Senate Democrats voted to block the “Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act” from proceeding. It was an amendment introduced to protect women’s sports and preserve Title IX. Fifty-two years ago, Congress passed Title IX, a law ensuring equal access for men and women to the lessons, life skills and opportunities that come from sports. It’s been one of the most successful pieces of legislation to ever come out of Congress. As a former coach and veteran sports broadcaster, we are horrified to watch President Joe Biden and Democrats take a sledgehammer to Title IX.  

We have both seen the positive effects of Title IX firsthand. One of us saw it during one of our first jobs out of college coaching junior girls’ basketball. Title IX was just being implemented, and the difference it made on women’s athletics was felt immediately. 

The hardworking young women on the team went on to earn college scholarships, start careers, and become leaders in their communities. Looking back, one wonders if they would have had the same opportunities without Title IX. Would they have had the same success if they had to compete against biological males? 


The other one of us had a front row seat at ESPN for the explosion of women’s sports over the past several decades. Back then, there were very few female broadcasters covering sports. The network launched espnW, an initiative to highlight female athletes.  

lia thomas riley gaines ncaa swimming championship

University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas and Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines tied for 5th in the 200 Freestyle finals at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships on March 18th, 2022 at the McAuley Aquatic Center in Atlanta Georgia. (Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Thanks to Title IX, sports like women’s collegiate basketball, gymnastics, softball, swimming and golf began to flourish. That’s why it was so disappointing when ESPN chose to highlight Lia Thomas, a biological male, during Women’s History Month. The very same ESPN executives who had launched and funded espnW – and the broadcasters who supposedly cared about “women’s rights” – went silent. 

We recently hosted a roundtable discussion in the U.S. Senate about the importance of protecting Title IX and women’s sports. We invited student-athletes, parents, and coaches to share their experiences. We were absolutely shocked by what we heard. 

One of the panelists, Paula Scanlan, was teammates with Lia Thomas at the University of Pennsylvania. Paula talked about how Will Thomas was an average swimmer on the men’s team. Once Will transitioned to “Lia” and joined the women’s team, Thomas suddenly began smashing records in every event.  

Paula described the fear she felt as she was forced to change in a locker room with an anatomical male 18 times a week. Even more heart-breaking, Paula shared how this experience was particularly traumatizing for her as she was a victim of sexual assault. 

Cady Mullens, another panelist, shared a story about her daughter, Lily Mullens, who is a captain on the Roanoke College women’s swim team. She described the agony Lily went through last year when a male swimmer joined her team.  

Mullens recounted the mental health struggles Lily went through after the male swimmer threatened suicide if Lily or her teammates spoke out against him. Amazingly, Lily and several of her female teammates persisted and bravely held a press conference expressing discomfort and calling on the NCAA to save women’s sports. 


Another panelist, coach Kim Russell, described how she was fired from her job coaching women’s lacrosse at Oberlin College after she spoke out about trans athletes in women’s sports. She said she learned the hard way that Oberlin College only supports free speech as long as you agree with them. She powerfully expressed, “I will never apologize for believing that women and girls should have the right to single sex competition.”  

According to Russell, many other women’s coaches share her opinions, but are afraid to speak up. And given how she was treated, it’s easy to see why these coaches fear similar repercussions. 

Sadly, the Biden administration does not share our views. Under Biden, the Department of Education has taken a sledgehammer to Title IX by proposing rule changes that will result in schools losing their federal funding if they ban men from competing in women’s sports.  

This is essentially a backdoor national mandate to force schools to allow biological males to play in women’s sports. So far, at least 500 female trophies – that we know of – have gone to male athletes as a direct result of Biden’s refusal to protect women’s sports. 


One thing is clear: we need Congress to take action. The “Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act” does the opposite of what Biden’s rules would do: it says that if you let biological boys compete against girls, then you lose your federal funding. It preserves the 52-year intent of Title IX and would save women’s sports. The House of Representatives has already passed its version of the Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act. What will it take for the Senate to do the same? 

This isn’t a Democrat or Republican problem – it’s an American one. We will do whatever it takes for Joe Biden and his Democratic colleagues come to their senses. We will not stop speaking up for women and girls. Allowing men to compete in women’s sports isn’t just dangerous – it’s unfair, it’s unsafe, and it’s wrong. 


Sage Steele is a veteran broadcaster. She worked at ESPN from 2007-2023 and hosted the network’s flagship show “SportsCenter.”


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