— Maggie Gray (@MaggieGray) June 6, 2017
Sanya Richards-Ross’ domination on the track has placed her the top female 400m sprinter for over a decade. She was ranked No.1 in the world from 2005 through 2009 and regained her title in 2012. Her professional athletic career began in college and led her to competing in the Athens Olympics (2004), Beijing Olympics (2008), and London Olympics (2012). Unfortunately, her successes on the track came at great cost, and now, Sanya is speaking out about her experiences as a post-abortive mother.
In 2008, Sanya was engaged to her now-husband, Aaron Ross. The two were preparing for a February 2010 wedding when Sanya found out that she was pregnant. Sanya was also training for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and Aaron was at the New York Giants training camp when she went for her abortion.
According to People.com, “The next day, she flew to Beijing for the Olympics and prepared to win gold, even though her doctor recommended she avoid exercise for two weeks following the procedure.”
She went on to win the bronze in the 400m and gold in the 4x400m relay.
“No Choice At All”
In her new book, Chasing Grace: What the Quarter Mile Has Taught Me About God and Life, Sanya shares:
“In that moment, it seemed like no choice at all. The debate of when life begins swirled through my head, and the veil of a child out of wedlock at the prime of my career seemed unbearable. What would my sponsors, my family, my church, and my fans think of me?
I made a decision that broke me, and one from which I would not immediately heal. Abortion would now forever be a part of my life. A scarlet letter I never thought I’d wear. I was a champion— and not just an ordinary one, but a world-class, record-breaking champion. From the heights of that reality, I fell into a depth of despair.”
For years, the couple barely discussed the decision, causing the pain of the abortion to also impact their relationship.
“I always harbored some resentment toward Ross. It was our mess-up, but I felt abandoned in the decision,” she writes. “It was like by not saying anything, neither agreeing nor opposing, he kept his conscience clear, but it wasn’t fair. We were in it together… [Ross] explained to me that he was just as burdened by the decision as I was. He believed that our child in 2008 was a blessing we had rejected by always wanting to be in control.”
College Athletes are Miseducated
“I literally don’t know another female track athlete who hasn’t had an abortion.” This shocking quote comes from U.S. Olympic sprinter, Sanya Richards-Ross, in a recent interview with Sports Illustrated’s Maggie Grace (featured above).
In that same Sports Illustrated interview, Sanya stated:
“At that time in your life, when you’re in college, you don’t feel comfortable talking to your mom. So a lot of the information that you get [is] from your peers… So there’s a lot of miseducation that happens to young women in college because we are educating ourselves.”
These troubling quotes caught our attention because Title IX is one of the first things that we discuss with our Pregnant on Campus Initiative student leaders. Through our Pregnant on Campus Initiative, we’ve helped two student-athletes choose life this year by providing information about this law.
How Title IX Protects Student-Athletes
Title IX is a federal law which protects students of all ages from sex-related discrimination. While it covers a wide range of sex and gender issues, our Pregnant on Campus Initiative specifically promotes the protections and accommodations for pregnant and parenting students.
As stated on our Pregnant on Campus website (here), a pregnant student-athlete can continue to participate in her sport for as long as she and her doctor feel comfortable and safe. She cannot be kicked off her team, demoted from leadership status (e.g. captain), or lose her scholarship for reason of her pregnancy if she otherwise continues to participate on her athletic team. The NCAA also allows a special red shirt season for athletes for pregnancy. A “red shirt season” is a season when the athlete is still on the team and on the roster, but they do not compete for medical reasons. The athlete would have to talk to her coach and apply for this status.
The NCAA has provided the following reminder regarding Title IX rights and pregnant student athletes participation in sports:
“Title IX guarantees equal educational opportunity to pregnant and parenting students. This means that student-athletes cannot be discriminated against in the event of their pregnancy, childbirth, conditions related to pregnancy, false pregnancy, termination of pregnancy or recovery there from, or parental or marital status; and they must be offered reinstatement to the same position after pregnancy as they held before the onset of pregnancy. Some actions that may be permissible under NCAA rules are impermissible under Title IX. Institutions should carefully monitor precedent regarding athletics financial aid renewal, access to athletics benefits and treatment issues. Student-athletes who are pregnant should be treated like any other student-athlete with a temporary disability. For example, if the institution regularly provides athletics aid, tutoring, athletics trainer and team physician support, insurance or access to assistance or opportunity funds to a student-athlete while he rehabilitates from an injury, the pregnant student-athlete should not be excluded from such benefits. Institutions should make sure student-athletes understand the law and institutional policy as part of the normal orientation or team meeting agenda.”
When it comes to scholarships and participation, the NCAA’s model policy states:
“What happens to your scholarship: As long as you are in good academic standing with the university and you do not voluntarily withdraw from your team, it is against federal law for us to withdraw or reduce your financial aid in the event of your pregnancy, childbirth, conditions related to pregnancy, false pregnancy, termination of pregnancy, recovery from pregnancy, or parental or marital status during the term of the award. Federal law also requires us to grant you as much leave as is medically necessary and to renew your scholarship under certain circumstances. Finally, you should also know that NCAA bylaws allow a female student-athlete to apply for an additional year of eligibility if her athletic career is interrupted by pregnancy.”
The NCAA Toolkit, “Pregnant and Parenting Student-Athletes Resources and Model Policies,” further outlines how athletic departments should handle these situations here.
Learn More and Become an Advocate
We hope that female athletes hear Sandra’s story and have the courage to seek pregnancy support, help, and accurate information (especially regarding Title IX). Whether you are a student leader on campus or a pro-life community activist, or a pregnancy resource center director, learn about Title IX and the legal rights and protections available to pregnant and parenting students (including athletes). This information can literally be the difference between a woman choosing life or death for her child. We know this for a fact because it’s been instrumental this spring in helping at least 2 student-athletes choose life! On our Pregnant on Campus website (here), you can download and print handouts to study Title IX and to better advertise this information.
“I’m chasing gold medals; I’m chasing records, and chasing the best version of myself. So, for me, if I didn’t share the toughest moment in my life where I felt God’s grace the most, it would be disingenuous to this journey. I think there are lots of young girls who experience this especially female athletes. I look forward to having more discussions about it and helping young women heal from it.”
This post was contributed by Beth Rahal, SFLA Pregnant on Campus Director. If you have questions regarding your athletic participation as a pregnant or parenting athlete, please contact Beth at firstname.lastname@example.org.