Nancy Hogshead-Makar: Women’s sports, Title IX, Penn State and beyond


Nancy Hogshead-Makar at the 1984 Olympic Trials (Photo provided)


Twenty-eight years ago my sister and I got our first glimpse of the Summer Olympics. We saw ABC’s coverage of the women’s 100 meter freestyle final, an event the United States was expected to win gold.  Carrie Steinseifer of Redwood City, California had a clear lead with meters to go and touched the wall first … or at least it looked like it.

Just seconds later, a woman appeared out of nowhere on the television screen. She screamed, “We tied! We tied!” That woman was Steinseifer’s teammate, Nancy Hogshead-Makar of Jacksonville, Florida.  The two swimmers had identical times and were both awarded gold medals. Couldn’t get any better than that. It was that event that inspired my sister and I to try swimming as a sport. I’m still at it years later.

After the Summer Olympics, Hogshead-Makar went on to become a staunch advocate for women’s equality in sports. Today, she is one of the foremost exponents of gender equity in education, including sports participation, sexual harassment, employment, pregnancy, and legal enforcement under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

Hogshead-Makar has worked for the Women’s Sports Foundation for 27 years, starting as a college intern, becoming the third President from 1992-94, its legal advisor from 2003-10, and is currently Senior Director of Advocacy.  She is also a tenured Professor of Law at the Florida Coastal School of Law, where she currently teaches Sports Law courses. She earned her law degree from Georgetown University Law Center and is an honors graduate of Duke University.

Let’s also not forget her storied swimming career. Hogshead-Makar  capped eight years as a world class swimmer at the 1984 Olympics, where she won three Gold medals and one Silver medal. Through high school and college dual meets she was undefeated.  She has received numerous awards including the Nathan Mallison Award, given to Florida’s outstanding athlete, and the prestigious Kiphuth Award, given to the best all-around national swimmer.

I caught up with Hogshead-Makar recently to discuss the 40th anniversary of Title IX, women’s equality in sports, and the sex abuse scandal involving the Penn State Football program.

How did you get involved in advocating women’s equality in sports?

I was always interested in the male-female dynamic in sports. I was a swimmer, which is a coed sport. In terms of how men and women are treated, it’s probably the most egalitarian sport you can get, along with track and field. We work out with men every day, we share a coach and have similar locker rooms, and go all the meets together.

Growing up, I swam very fast in practice. I was already training at a world class level at age 12  and by age 14, I was ranked the number one swimmer in my event. So I swam fast in practice and one time my coach said to my male teammates, “Are you going to let a girl beat you?” I pulled my coach aside and told him how that felt. Even at a young age I knew this “motivational tactic” would make my life miserable. It just couldn’t be that every single practice was going to be a battle of the sexes. That would have been a disempowering experience for guys. I talked to my coach and said that the guys have to respect me as an athlete. I was always interested in gender equality since then.

Fast forward years later at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Olympic swimmer and ABC Sportscaster Donna de Varona talked to the Olympic Swim Team after the games and said, “You’re about to become famous. What are you going to do with it?” That was a question I never considered before.

She mentioned Title IX and how she hoped we would do something related to it, because the law  was in jeopardy. There had been a recent Supreme Court decision that nullified Title IX as it related to athletics earlier in the year, and it held that Title IX was program-specific. Meaning, if the student loan program received federal funds, then it couldn’t discriminate. But the math, housing, band and athletics could structure their programs without offering equal opportunities to women. She and another social-justice worker, Ken Bastion got me up to speed enough so I could talk to the media about it. I was political science major and received a women’s studies certificate (they didn’t have majors in women’s studies then).  And it was fun. I believed in it, and I had been a beneficiary of the law.  The next summer, in 1985, I became an intern at the Women’s Sports Foundation. It was there that I really developed a deeper interested in the issues involved with Title IX.

After the incident you just described with your swim coach, were personally affected other instances of discrimination in sports? If so, how did it change your life?

I wasn’t personally discriminated in sports, but in my sophomore year in college I was raped. I was out running between campuses at 4:30 in the afternoon, when a large man running in the opposite direction grabbed me and pulled me into the woods. Afterwards, my Duke coach, Bob Thompson, was great. He red-shirted me for the year and told me, “Don’t worry, you’re going to come back and win gold medals in ’84!” And I was like “Yeah, that’ll never happen.”

The rape made me feel like I wasn’t in control of my own destiny and body. It really threw a wrench how I conceived God and how I conceived the world. I’m physically strong, even as compared to other Olympic swimmers. I was a hard worker, a “nose-to-the-grindstone-type” both academically and athletically. I always had strong male friendships and considered myself to be “one of the guys.” I just couldn’t wrap my head around this universe where I could’ve been raped, where I was a victim. It didn’t make sense for me.

The next year, I went back into swimming when I found myself again. Athletics became an appropriate place for me to be angry. Channeling it properly made me go faster. There were so many good reasons why sports are so good for women. That’s one out of a 100. But there is something empowering about being strong and being in control of your own body and having goals and working toward them. Athletics put me back on the path of normalcy.

What would you say are the biggest accomplishments Title IX achieved?

When Title IX was passed in 1972, only 295,000 girls competed in high school sports in the United States, compared with 3.67 million boys. In 2010-11, 3.2 million girls played high school sports, as did 4.5 million boys. That is a lot of young girls who, like me, have learned valuable life lessons through their athletic endeavors. With so many girls in high school participating, it normalizes the endeavor.

Also, sports participation became a regular  In the 1980s, there were all these movies on “Lifetime” and other networks of transformational women playing in sports. I was in one of these movies called “Challenge of a Lifetime” with Penny Marshall (of Laverne & Shirley fame). In the movie, the woman is getting divorced and she’s a single mom and she enters the Ironman Triathlon and she regains her sense of self. We don’t even have movies like that anymore because the point is taken for granted. Now, when women finish going through chemo, many want to run half marathons or take part in triathlons. They have physical goals to do something and that inspires them, that keeps them moving forward positively.

From L to R: Nancy Hogshead-Makar, Cheryl Miller, Greg Louganis, Edwin Moses, Peter Vidmar (Photo provided)

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX. Where would advocates like it to be in the next 40 years?

Twenty years ago, when I was giving a talk on Title IX, someone said to me, “Title IX and college… that will never happen.” Thirty years ago, George H.W. Bush came into office, making “reform” of Title IX part of the Republican platform. Advocates were in a very defensive position, as we tried to preserve what we’d achieved in the courts, the legislature and the administrations. He lost, and all the efforts to make it weaker ended up making it stronger instead.  At the 40th anniversary of Title IX, we had already won all those battles over whether it applied to athletics, whether football was included, whether equal really meant equal.

Now, we have a strong law, but there is a very stubborn gap of equal opportunities in sports. For instance, in Maine girls have more than twice the opportunities in sports than boys do in Florida. Clearly, Florida is suppressing sports participation for its kids. But girls in Florida still receive far less than boys in Florida. Schools are not close to meeting the interest for either boys or girls. You shouldn’t have any gap in a situation like that.

The next 10 years are going to be about obtaining full compliance with Title IX. In high school, that’s equal to 1.3 million more girls playing sports. This isn’t just about kids learning physical skills. Research shows that kids who play sports are much more likely to be employed full time, are less likely to be obese in adulthood, and will receive more education. That’s how important sports participation will be to our country’s future.

What are some of the biggest myths you come up against when you talk about Title IX and women’s sports and equality?

One of the biggest ones is that Title IX is controversial. It’s just not. There’s been three major polls by CNN, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal where roughly 80 percent of the people polled are supportive of Title IX and girls’ right to equal opportunities to play sports.

The second is the myth is that Title IX has meant losses for boys’ sports. Girls still don’t have today as many opportunities to play sports as boys did in 1972 and girls’ increases have never come at the expense of boys. Instead, the graphs over time show that when women do well, so do men, and vice versa. What you would like to see is men’s rate increasing, while women’s rates grow at a faster rate. Yet since 2000, we’ve been trying to preserve what we’ve gained. Sports for males are growing at faster rates than sports for females.


There was an article recently in the Boston Globe whether there’s a future for women’s pro soccer. I’ve encountered people who say women’s sports leagues struggle to succeed not because of sexism. They will tell me that” there isn’t a demand, just like there isn’t as much demand for Triple AAA baseball, PBA Bowling, WNBA, etc.” They may also tell me, there is no interest because “there are no transformational athletes in those professions. That’s what people want.”

How do you get around assumptions like that?

I think that’s just sexism. Tennis doesn’t have a problem recognizing its female transformational players, because tennis has Billie Jean King. Women’s golf has some athletes who have been more consistent than the best male players, but they don’t have a charismatic leader to take them to the next level.

One way you notice sexism in sports is in coaching. One of the reasons why Title IX is so powerful for the athlete is because sports are sex segregated. It takes away all those stereotypes of “all girls aren’t interested in sports” because as soon as schools started offering sports, girls rushed to fill the teams. The measure for whether there is discrimination is to look at what the boys have, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for sexist stereotypes that keep girls and women back in society.

Yet as more and more women have made it onto the fields, more and more male coaches are getting hired. Currently, just 20% of coaches are female, whereas in 1972, over 90% of women were coached by women.  In employment, the legal analysis almost never compares women and men coaches, unless the proportion is very skewed. There may be few women in a particular a nursing program, but that might not mean anything if students are accepted based on the same gender-neutral tests. But I’ve seen it many times; a very well qualified female is up for the job and the male gets hired. And the chances of women getting hired depend to a certain extent on the diversity of the athletics department. The more diverse and athletic department is, the more likely it is a woman will be hired. If the top three people in an athletic department are male, it’s very unlikely a woman will get hired.

Athletics is identified with masculine traits like goal setting, extraversion, aggression, risk-taking and physical strength. If those are traits we associate with men, then it perpetuates the idea that sports are male, and that men will be better at coaching.

And take note: women are almost completely locked out of the market for coaching men. There’s a real difference on why we segregate men and women when it comes to participating because there’s a real physical difference between men and women after puberty. But there’s no reason to segregate based on coaching and the sex of the athlete. That speaks volumes of bias against women’s in athletics and that’s what we have to overcome.

Carrie Steinseifer (left) Nancy Hogshead-Makar (right) on the medal stand, 1984 Summer Olympics (Photo: Heinz Kluetmeier)

Shifting gears on the situation with the Penn State University football program. What is your reaction to the Louis Freeh report? How does the Penn State scandal affect Title IX, women in sports, or other social issues you deal with? What is the appropriate response now and what do you hope ordinary sports fans or aspiring athletes take from this horrible scandal?

In the past we’ve seen many many instances of football programs trying to hide criminal conduct by one of their members. The difference at Penn State was that they were hiding child sex abuse, rather than violence against women. Until the economics of intercollegiate athletics changes, we will continue to see cheating, lying, covering up the worst criminal activity. Currently, just 22 college programs are in the black, with the average loss among the remaining teams at $10 million per year. Almost half of BCS football programs spend more than they bring in. So in order to be financially viable, schools must win resoundingly and must maintain that winning percentage over a number of years. Because each year half of all teams will win, and half of all teams will lose, linking winning to economic viability is the surest pathway to its corruption. The NFL doesn’t demand such a winning percentage for economic viability, nor any professional league. (Hogshead-Makar has written about how to change the economics of intercollegiate athletics here)

Title IX and the Clery Act may provide some of the most powerful tools to discipline Penn State. The Frehe report found that Penn State regularly violated the Clery Act. A possible governmental sanction is to take away federal funding, which for Penn State is a whopping $476 million annually. Football’s $50 million looks less important by comparison. In addition, damages for civil liability under Title IX could prove to be very expensive. Lisa Simpson settled for $2.8 million for one rape against the University of Colorado at Boulder, and the school paid an additional $3.25 million in legal fees. There are already at least 10 victims who were each abused repeatedly over years, so damages can expect to be in the tens of millions, if not more.

Last question. What can men do to break barriers of sexism, discrimination, and racism in women’s sports and Title IX?

What can men do? There are some things that only men can say. For instance, I love speaking with Richard Lapchick or Arthur Bryant. Women advocates are so appreciative when men do get it and understand it. But for a guy to be advocate on behalf of women is always needed and always appreciated.

Second, call other men out on sexism. For example, go onto the comment section after a story on women and post. Go to It can be a very hostile place for women. There was this one article where the comments were so negative. I told some of my friends to get on and post. They told me, “Oh no, there is too much bad energy there.” I appreciate that, but at the same time, we need to call the bigots out.

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll see I take on the anti-Title IX people head on. It’s hard on Twitter because they ask me complicated questions in 160 characters like “Why is Title IX constitutional?” I find a link, I make it concise, and then I send it out. I try hard to engage with others to keep the dialogue moving. We need to keep those lines open.

There’s one person I engage with on twitter who will probably never be convincible, but his followers are. A couple email me or direct message me and say “thanks, I never knew that.” Many of the people I dialogue with are wrestlers. I stay in the game even when may be snarky to me, but I let it be like water off a ducks back.

I keep reminding myself that it my work flows from two important premises:  Sports play a vital role in students’ lives and in the economic life and health of our country.  And second, that boys and girls, men and women should have equal opportunities in education, including sports.

Nancy Hogshead-Makar today (photo provided)

This interview is dedicated to my aunt, Joanne Avard: 1971, 1972, 1973 New Hampshire State Amateur Ladies’ golf champion; 1973 New Hampshire Female Athlete of the Year; LPGA pro from 1976-1980; and former golf pro at Beachview Golf and Tennis Club Sanibel Island, Florida.

7 Responses to “Nancy Hogshead-Makar: Women’s sports, Title IX, Penn State and beyond”

  1. Temple3 says:

    Brilliant write up and interview. Awesome, informative and actionable take-aways. Thank you very much!!

  2. kristi Griffith-Jones says:

    Wonderful interview! Thanks so much for this! Will post to FB…

  3. CAvard says:

    Thanks, Kristi. Please do.

  4. This is a great interview. Thank you both. Dug the lede as well CA. Appreciatcha sir.

  5. Ron Glover says:

    C, You hit this one out…way out of the park. I learned alot in this piece and I remember the Newsweek cover. Good stuff and thanks as always.

  6. michelle says:

    I enjoy watching the Olympics. Two of my favs all time are speed skater Dan Jansen and gymnast Dominique Dawes. Both athletes inspired me to be the best I can be 🙂

  7. […] Nancy Hogshead-Makar: Women’s sports, Title IX, Penn State and Beyond, Christian Avard, The Starting Five “I was always interested in the male-female dynamic in sports. I was a swimmer, which is a coed sport. In terms of how men and women are treated, it’s probably the most egalitarian sport you can get, along with track and field. We work out with men every day, we share a coach and have similar locker rooms, and go all the meets together.” […]