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A Champion for Women's Sports

Nancy Hogshead-Makar

Hometown: Jacksonville

Job: Civil rights attorney; CEO of Champion Women, a non-profit legal advocacy group for girls and women in sports

Education: Law degree from Georgetown University, 1997; bachelor’s in political science and gender studies from Duke University, 1986

Family: Married to state appellate judge Scott Makar. They have three children: Aaron, 20, and twins Helen Clare and Millicent, 15.

Background: A 1984 Olympic swimming gold and silver medalist, she began her legal career at Holland & Knight in the late-1990s. She then taught at Florida Coastal School of Law for 12 years and founded Champion Women in 2014.

Hobbies: Cycling, jogging, meditation and yoga. “I do not compete in sports,” she says. “I’m so competitive I can’t be in a race just for fun.”

For Nancy Hogshead-Makar, sports has been an avenue for achievement and a source of healing. Florida schools’ non-compliance with Title IX robs other women of those opportunities, she says.

Last spring, as economic uncertainty spread amid the coronavirus pandemic, Nancy Hogshead- Makar feared that colleges would begin cutting women’s sports programs. She had reasons for those fears — an Olympic medalist and now an attorney, Hogshead-Makar specializes in Title IX, the gender-equity law that requires schools that accept federal funding to provide equal opportunities to sports for both men and women.

Hogshead-Makar hired a director of operations, a data analyst and three University of Florida law students to examine annual reports filed by every college and university with the Department of Education. The reports, required under the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act, show how many men’s and women’s teams a school has, the number of players on the teams, the amount of money the teams get for things like coaches’ salaries and recruiting costs and the amount of scholarship dollars given to men and women.

Hogshead-Makar and her researchers looked at reports from more than 2,000 schools and found that 90% of the institutions were not complying with Title IX law. According to their research, the country’s colleges and universities would have to add 183,130 more “playing opportunities” — slots on teams — and $1 billion in scholarships for female athletes to reach gender parity.

The research indicated that among the major four-year public and private institutions in Florida that have sports programs, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach was the only school where women do not lag men in terms of opportunities to play, scholarships and treatment. The researchers estimate that for every 100 female college students in Florida, there are 2.9 opportunities to play sports vs. 4.4 for every 100 male students.

In June, Hogshead-Makar wrote to more than 40 collegiate athletic conferences about her findings. “We kind of knew that cutting sports was on the horizon, and we wanted to put them on notice that they already were out of compliance with Title IX,” she says. By the fall, the conferences that replied to her mainly touted their athletic achievements. None disputed her numbers — and none made any promises about holding member-schools accountable to Title IX, she says.

In the 49 years since Congress passed Title IX, the number of women’s collegiate sports opportunities nationwide has grown from fewer than 70,000 in the early 1980s to more than 200,000 today. But that growth has not kept pace with women’s increasing enrollment in college relative to men, who also have seen their opportunities to play expand significantly over the years.

The problem, as Hogshead-Makar sees it, is a lack of oversight and enforcement. Female students who believe their college is not complying with Title IX can always sue, but they usually only do so after a program is cut. “Most girls and women don’t want to sue their school. They love their school,” she says.

“The NCAA used to require that schools move closer toward compliance, but they stopped doing that in 2010. No matter how badly a school is complying, the NCAA won’t do anything,” Hogshead- Makar says. “Conferences aren’t doing anything, and the Department of Education isn’t doing anything, which means that enforcement is left to 18- to 22-year-olds.”

The fight for Title IX compliance is a personal one for Hogshead-Makar, who believes her opportunity to compete in college 40 years ago enabled her to reach the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. “I was one of the very best athletes in the world, and none of that would have mattered had it not been for Title IX. I would not have gotten a college scholarship. I would not have gone on to win in 1984,” she says.

“I’ll never forget how important my sports opportunity was. The generation ahead of me laments that they didn’t get what I got.”

Early promise

Hogshead-Makar, 58, was born in Iowa City, the middle child of three. Her father was an orthopedic surgeon, her mother a homemaker. Her father’s career took the family to Gainesville and then to Jacksonville, where she attended Jacksonville Episcopal High School. (Her father was president of the Cathedral Rehabilitation Center, now Brooks Rehabilitation.)

Randy Reese, Episcopal’s swim coach at the time, saw potential in her right away. “She trained very hard, was very intelligent and had very good body build — lean and fairly tall,” says Reese, who later coached at the University of Florida, where he led the men’s and women’s swim teams to two national titles each from 1976 to 1990.

At 15, Hogshead-Makar was ranked No. 1 in the world in the 200-meter butterfly. At 18, she made the U.S. Olympic team, but she figured her Olympic dreams were over when the U.S. boycotted the 1980 Moscow games in retaliation for the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. She then enrolled at Duke on a full swim scholarship — the first time the school had given a scholarship to a female swimmer. As a freshman, she won four Atlantic Coast Conference titles and set school records in every event she swam.

In fall 1981, she was looking forward to another strong swim season. After dropping a friend off at the airport for Thanksgiving break, she returned to her dorm and went for an evening run along a wooded area between the school’s east and west campuses. A stranger approached her and asked for directions. Before she had a chance to react, he grabbed her and forced her into the woods.

The rape lasted for more than two hours. After her attacker fled, she flagged down a motorist and reported the assault to campus police. During the next few months, as police searched unsuccessfully for her rapist, she struggled with crippling anxiety.

“I got a terrible case of what we would now call PTSD. I had raging out-of-control thoughts,” she says. “I didn’t know who I was anymore. My grounding in life was gone. I thought I was going to be damaged for the rest of my life, that I would never be normal again.”

To help with her recovery, Duke moved her to a new dorm away from the woods, allowed her to redshirt so she could sit out the season without losing her scholarship and gave her deadline extensions in all her classes. Hogshead-Makar is and was “a very strong woman,” says longtime Duke administrator Sue Wasiolek, who helped her through the recovery process. “And yet, needless to say, when this happened to her, it impacted her in ways that neither she nor I could ever imagine. I just felt so focused on her and making certain this was not a turning point that took her down a road she did not want. I wanted her to continue on a road where she was going to be able to maximize her intellectual, social and athletic potential.”

Hogshead-Makar’s college coach, the late Bob Thompson, persuaded her to start swimming again by requiring only that she show up at competitions to keep her scholarship. It wasn’t long before her competitive spirit took over.

“In the water, I could yell, scream and fantasize about slicing my rapist’s head off with a machete,” she said in an interview with the Guardian. “When I tell that story to an audience, they often recoil because it isn’t socially acceptable. But in the water, I could re-enact it over and over again, and it would give me a sense of power back.”

In 1983, she left Duke to train full time for the Los Angeles Olympics, where she tied for gold with fellow American Carrie Steinseifer in the 100-meter freestyle, anchored two gold-winning relays and took silver in the 200-meter individual medley behind Tracy Caulkins.

Only a small circle of teammates and coaches knew about the rape. “I now feel zero shame about having been raped, but it wasn’t that way back then, and I still was not completely healed,” she says. “If you had started talking to me about it at that time, I probably would have just started to cry.”

She parlayed her Olympic success into a series of motivational speaking appearances and product endorsements — including a turn in 1991 as a model for Jockey underwear — and finished her undergraduate degree at Duke. She began opening up about the rape after meeting human rights activist Richard Lapchick at a fundraiser in Boston. Lapchick, a sports sociologist who runs the DeVos Sport Business Management program at the University of Central Florida, himself had been attacked after leading sports boycotts against South Africa during apartheid in the 1970s. He was working in his office at Virginia Wesleyan College when two men burst in and carved the n-word into his stomach with a pair of scissors.

Lapchick told her that he, too, had been reluctant to talk about being attacked but had found it both therapeutic and useful in engaging audiences. “Obviously, she wrestled with the idea of whether to do it or not, but she eventually started, and I think it helped her,” he says.

As a college intern, Hogshead-Makar had gotten involved with the Women’s Sports Foundation, a non-profit started by Billie Jean King in San Francisco. Hogshead- Makar says that though motivational speaking paid the bills, what she really loved was advocating for gender equality. She became the foundation’s president in 1992 and held that job until 1994, when she decided to go to law school.

After getting her law degree from Georgetown, she moved to Jacksonville and worked for Holland & Knight, where she met her future husband, Scott Makar, now a judge on Florida’s 1st District Court of Appeal.

They have three children, including a son who attends Duke. Hogshead- Makar remains close with her parents, who live nearby in the same house where she grew up, and with her siblings: Her older brother, Andy, a Harvard-educated former investment banker and Collier Cos. executive, lives in Gainesville; her younger sister, Sally, a branding expert, public speaker and author, is in Orlando.

Critic and advocate

During the 2000s, Hogshead-Makar taught at Florida Coastal School of Law and advised the Women’s Sports Foundation on legal issues. In 2009, she sued the Florida High School Athletic Association over its attempt to cut between 20% and 40% of all competitive sports opportunities, except for football. Hogshead- Makar argued that the cuts violated Title IX, since 100% of girls faced cuts, while 30% of boys — the football players — did not. The FHSAA ended up restoring all athletic competitions for both boys and girls.

Meanwhile, Hogshead-Makar started representing women in cases of alleged sexual assaults on college campuses.

When Title IX was first put into place, rule-making under the law focused on ensuring equal access to athletic opportunities for women, but by the ’90s, Title IX also was seen as a way to prevent sexual violence against female students.

In 2001, the U.S. Department of Education issued new guidelines calling for “prompt, thorough, impartial” investigations of all incidents known to school administrators. Then, in 2011, the department issued a directive stating that administrators “must promptly investigate” any sexual harassment or abuse case they know about, or should know about, and take “appropriate” action. Schools generally have 60 days to conclude an investigation.

Hogshead-Makar was a consultant to the legal team that represented Erica Kinsman in her lawsuit against Florida State University for an alleged sexual assault by Jameis Winston in 2012. “I was there to provide Florida context and help explain the case to the media,” she says. FSU ended up settling the suit for about $1 million. Winston, who won the Heisman Trophy in 2013, ultimately settled a separate lawsuit with Kinsman for an undisclosed amount.

In 2014, Hogshead-Makar left the Women’s Sports Foundation to create her own non-profit, Champion Women, which provides legal advocacy for girls and women in sports. She says she fell out with the foundation over a contract it wanted her to sign agreeing to not publicly discuss the issue of sexual abuse in sports. “It’s a very uncomfortable subject for most people,” she says.

Hogshead-Makar has since become a critic of the U.S. Olympic committee and its handling of abuse allegations by athletes against their coaches or other staff. For years, she says, the Olympic committee and national sports governing bodies hid behind the tort “no duty rule,” a legal doctrine that says no person or group has an obligation to protect another from harm.

In 2018, she helped persuade Congress to pass legislation aimed at requiring the Olympic movement to protect athletes and to prevent cases like that of Larry Nassar, the former Michigan State University and USA gymnastics sports doctor who sexually assaulted hundreds of female athletes. The bill authorized the creation of the US. Center for SafeSport, an independent organization charged with preventing abuse and removing abusers from Olympic sports. Last year, she also got federal legislation passed to restructure the U.S. Olympic committee, giving athletes greater protection and more input into governance and decision-making.

Hogshead-Makar is a frequent target of attacks from critics: Some argue that Title IX gives opportunities to women at the expense of men. Others question the educational value of college athletics more broadly, arguing that they take admission spots and scholarship dollars away from students who are more deserving.

“There are lots of people who think it’s a cultural downfall that women now have some equality in the sports world,” Scott Makar says. “I’m a relatively conservative person, but I look at Title IX and think, hey, gender equality, what’s the big deal? Why is that such a politically divisive topic? Once you have a son and then a daughter, you realize, I want the same for both of them.”

‘Red herring’

In the past year, a number of schools, including Dartmouth, the University of Iowa, William & Mary, Fresno State and San Diego State, have moved to cut sports programs for both men and women. William & Mary later backtracked and reinstated all sports, including men’s teams, after several female student-athletes threatened to file a Title IX lawsuit.

In December, a federal judge granted an injunction against the University of Iowa, preventing it from dropping women’s swimming, or any other women’s sports, next fall. The case’s plaintiffs — six female swimmers — argued that while female enrollment as a percentage of total enrollment at Iowa had increased in recent years, female athlete participation and the amount of money spent on scholarships and recruitment for women’s sports had proportionately declined. According to the plaintiffs, the university is about 140 female athletes short of gender parity.

The university dismissed the plaintiffs’ statistical analysis as speculative and noted that the federal Office of Civil Rights had closed a Title IX investigation into gender equity in its athletic department with “no findings of any violation,” though the administration’s lawyers did not turn over the report or any other data that might have exonerated the school. They said an injunction against ending women’s swimming would do “significant harm” because it would exacerbate financial losses caused by the pandemic — the university estimates that maintaining the team over the next year would cost $1.1 million.

The judge ultimately ruled that the university likely is violating Title IX and that financial hardship is no defense, writing that public universities “may not simply plead limited resources to excuse the fact that there are fewer opportunities for girls than for boys.”

Hogshead-Makar, who dismisses the pandemic excuse as a “red herring,” says the proposed cuts reflect a fundamental shift in how colleges think about athletics.

“A hundred years ago, the U.S. did something no other country had done, which was to merge its educational system and its sports system. The idea was to make better soldiers and to make better men, to have a healthier population. We were going to use our tax dollars to teach things that you can’t learn on a blackboard,” she says.

In the 1980s, the idea that big money could be made from two sports in particular — football and men’s basketball — took hold, and “people kind of forgot what this is all about,” she says.

Today, most athletic directors are evaluated and compensated based on the success of those two programs, she says. “As such, most other sports are a distraction. Title IX can’t work miracles,” she says. “It can’t make a school value the educational mission of sports.”

Failing Grade

In 1972, Congress passed Title IX, which requires schools that receive federal funding to provide equal educational opportunities, including sports, to men and women.

Under Title IX, schools can demonstrate gender equality in one of three ways: If athletic offerings match the percentages of male and female students at the school; if the school is continuously expanding opportunities for women; or if the school can show it’s fully meeting the interests and abilities of its female students.

Last year, Champion Women, a Jacksonville-based non-profit that advocates for girls and women in sports, joined with the California Women’s Law Center to analyze data from the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act. They found that 90% of NCAA institutions — including the vast majority of Florida’s four-year public and private colleges — discriminate against women in sports.

Report Card

Of the 26 major universities in Florida that have sports programs, 25 fail to provide equal access to women in terms of these three standards: Opportunities to play, scholarships and recruiting expenses. FGCU, FIT and UNF come close to women’s equality.

Double Counting

A female student who plays two sports typically is counted twice, which can make it appear that there are more women athletes than is actually the case, says Nancy Hogshead-Makar, CEO of Champion Women. A distance runner who runs indoor and outdoor track would be counted twice, for example. When a non-duplicated number is used, the gender gap at Florida’s four-year public and private institutions increases from 2,642 to 2,819, meaning the state’s colleges and universities would have to add a total of 2,819 more opportunities for women to reach parity, according to Champion Women.


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