Why are the NCAA and USAG silent about abortion rights? — Other gym news (Euros!) — Thoughts from Greg Marsden
Some have spoken out in the wake of Dobbs, but those who think they have something to lose need to speak now, and stand up for their athletes, because they risk losing more by staying silent
I’m going to be writing again about the intersection of politics and sports today. Once again, it will be about the Supreme Court decision Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, which effectively ended the protection of a woman’s right to choose in the United States. It is not the first time and it will not be the last. If your reaction is “stick to sports,” we haven’t met. Welcome aboard!
Greg Marsden, the former Utah head coach and current gymnastics ombudsman on Twitter, as usual, said it better than I will, or at least more concisely, so I’m going to start with this thread from Sunday.
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You can see more of what Marsden has to say by scrolling down to Five at The IX. But I think he’s doing a great job at pushing for a statement from these entities that make money off girls and young women, demographics that (whether they oppose Dobbs or not) need to hear that their choices are supported.
I think it’s notable which people we have heard from with regards to upholding the right to choose and supporting female athletes as their rights shrink. Among that group are those who are retired from coaching (Marsden), coaching in a very blue state (LIU’s Randy Lane), the best and most well-known gymnast in the world (Simone Biles), a coach of the best gymnast in the world (Cecile Landi), and the 2017 WAG world champion with more followers than her NCAA program and a history of activism online and off (Morgan Hurd).
None of their platforms, nor their affiliations, will be hurt by their statements. This is not to lessen the impact of what they have said; it is wonderful that they spoke up. But the people and institutions not speaking up are those who think they have something to lose (though I would posit that what they will gain by affirming the women who look up to them and, in some cases, rely on them, is more than what they will lose).
The Dobbs decision is going to affect NCAA recruitment, whether or not we’re going to see it immediately. It is going to affect USAG, which, besides career development and opportunities, provides health insurance to national team members.
And it is going to affect gymnastics in general, primarily because the vast majority of elite and collegiate gymnasts are in their late teens and early 20s. Sixty percent of women who receive abortion care in the United States are in their 20s, and 12 percent are in their teens, according to The Guttmacher Institute.
As Marsden said, the need for an abortion happens more often than you think. So even if the NCAA and USAG do not want to think about it, they need to. They need to let their athletes know they are supported. And if they aren’t supported, well, the athletes deserve to know that too, so they can find others they trust with their healthcare.
This decision is going to hurt gymnasts, and it is going to hurt someone sooner than we think – it may already have hurt someone. I hope that gymnasts seeking college scholarships have someone on their team who is aware of the laws in different states, and that schools in the states where abortion rights are most severely limited subsequently lose recruits. Because that limits their finances, and money might be the only thing that pressures the NCAA enough to take action.
USAG needs to affirm that it, too, puts the rights of its athletes to choose first. It needs to provide a clear way for athletes to obtain the healthcare they need. We have already heard part of USAG leadership refuse to take a stand for women’s right to choose, and we cannot let that be all that is said.
This is not all I have to say on this topic, and it is one I’m sure I will return to again and again as we – hopefully – hear more from gymnastics leadership, as well as from the athletes and coaches affected directly by the Dobbs ruling.
Gymnastics Saturday will be away next week, along with me. I will be back on Aug. 27 with a look back at nationals (which are taking place Aug. 18-21 in Tampa) and more thoughts on Euros, with a look towards worlds.
Other gym news
Averting my gaze from the United States for a while … the big news in WAG this week is from the European Championships, aka Euros.
Spencer at The Balance Beam Situation and Lauren at The Gymternet liveblogged the senior women’s all-around competition, which determined both the AA winners and the 13 countries that qualified teams to worlds.
Asia D’Amato of Italy won AA gold. Silver went to Great Britain’s Alice Kinsella and bronze to D’Amato’s compatriot Martina Maggio.
Italy, Great Britain, and France were the top three nations heading into the team final, where they will compete with Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Hungary, and Spain. All eight of those teams plus Romania, Finland, Austria, Ukraine, and Sweden will send full squads to worlds. That’s a huge deal for a rebounding Romania and a beleaguered Ukraine, as well as for the Scandinavian teams that have been fighting their way up the standings over the last several years.
I do hope, though, that Romania does not pull any shenanigans like throwing a gymnast who hasn’t trained floor in years into the event again, at Euros or at worlds.
The back-and-forth between Italy and Great Britain for European gymnastics dominance is exciting, as is seeing a set of identical twins – Asia and Alice D’Amato of Italy and Great Britain’s Jennifer and Jessica Gadirova – competing for each. Italy heading into the team final with a three-point lead over GB seems like a strong message, though. Hang on to those Olympic bronzes for dear life, British ladies!
Lauren also liveblogged the junior women; at press time, that competition had not yet ended, so I don’t have results to share. I’ll discuss that competition as well as the Euros team and event finals in two weeks!
Pre-Euros, Dom Cunningham, a British MAG, posted to his Instagram Story this shot of Jennifer Gadirova, part of the aforementioned British bronze-medal Olympic team, after she broke the damn floor doing a double layout:
GymCastic has a bunch of exclusive Euros content up on their Instagram and will have special podcasts from the event throughout. Kensley Behel nabbed an interview with Jennifer and asked her about that broken floor:
Gabby Douglas addressed on her Instagram her reluctance to discuss much about her gymnastics career. We stan a true queen.
Konnor McClain gave an interview to The Dallas Morning News ahead of nationals next week about coping with the deaths of her father and grandmother last year while continuing to pursue her gymnastics dreams after a gym switch to WOGA, which split her family across three states. “I just felt like I was breaking down,” she said. This is a tough read but gives some insight into what kind of person becomes an elite athlete.
The Brazilian gymnastics championships were live-streamed on YouTube.
Champion debuted a leo line, modeled by none other than incoming Arkansas fifth-year and this week’s NIL winner Norah Flatley.
Not to be outdone, Suni Lee, Jordan Chiles, and Simone Biles debuted new leos for GK Elite.
LSU’s Haleigh Bryant posted a video of her training a Podkopayeva on floor. The front tumbling queen of NCAA appears to be back from an injury-plagued season.
Fisk University’s first gymnastics team practice went viral on TikTok.
The roster for U.S. Nationals was released. Nationals are being held in Tampa from Aug. 18-21. The junior women’s competition will air on FlipNow at 1:30 p.m. Friday and the same time Sunday. The first day of senior competition Friday will air live on the Olympic Channel at 7 p.m.; day two will air live Sunday on NBC. I will recap alllllll the nationals upon my return.
Five at The IX: Greg Marsden
Greg Marsden coached the women’s gymnastics team at the University of Utah for 40 years. Utah won nine NCAA championships under Marsden’s leadership, and he was seven times named National Coach of the Year. Since Marsden’s retirement from coaching in 2015, free to speak his mind, he has taken to Twitter over and over to discuss issues affecting the gymnastics community. As I mentioned above, one of those was the recent Supreme Court decision Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health that overturned Roe v. Wade, effectively limiting women’s right to have an abortion. (That’s his wife Megan, a former NCAA champion in her own right and Greg’s former co-head coach, up there with him; the couple has two sons.) Marsden’s self-deprecating Twitter bio calls him, among other things, “irrelevant”; nothing could be further from the truth. I was very impressed with Marsden’s tweets on abortion rights and the impact of the Dobbs decision on gymnastics and contacted him to see if he would say more, and he agreed. I’m delighted to welcome him to this space. I have edited this interview for clarity.
Do you think the Dobbs decision will affect female gymnasts’ decisions about where to attend college?
GM: I think currently it may be a consideration for some but likely not for many. Typically, young athletes don’t consider abortion laws when choosing a school to attend, because they don’t plan to get pregnant. As someone who worked alongside women athletes for 40 years, I know, that for a variety of reasons, it happens more often than you (or they) may imagine. Perhaps as these bans are implemented and the effects become more obvious, it will become more of a consideration.
You have been very vocal about wanting the NCAA and USAG to make a statement supporting athletes in the wake of the Dobbs decision. What pushed you to get your voice out there?
GM: I grew up through high school and college at a time when abortion was illegal. I saw what that did to many young women. It was ugly and I would not choose to go back to that place. Women have had the right to make reproductive choices for almost 50 years, so many have never known what it was like not to have the freedom of self-determination.
As a result of my experiences growing and later coaching young women, I felt an obligation to speak on behalf of their right to make choices based on their own values and beliefs, as well as their mental and physical well-being. It’s important that anyone who believes in the rights of women to make their own choices speak up now and make their position clear. To not speak amounts to an implicit approval of those rights being taken away, which is why I feel it is a betrayal to young women athletes for the NCAA, USAG and other NGBs to say nothing.
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends” – Martin Luther King Jr.
The NCAA and USAG are traditionally pretty conservative organizations and gymnastics is a conservative-leaning sport. Ideally, what would the NCAA and USAG say to their athletes about Dobbs that would signify support?
Let me first say that I don’t have much hope that the NCAA will say or do anything on behalf of women unless they are forced to do so. They have a dismal record when it comes to proactively supporting women’s rights. But perhaps they will surprise me and say something like…
The health and well-being of our student-athletes has always been our primary concern. We fully support our women student-athletes and believe they should have the right to make personal decisions, based on their own values and beliefs, that are in the best interest of their mental/emotional well-being and physical health.
Utah is one of the states that tried to enact a trigger ban on abortion post-Dobbs. If you were still coaching, what would you tell your athletes about the decision and what they could do in the event they got pregnant?
GM: A judge has stayed that ban for the time being, although it will likely go into effect at some future date.
Honestly, I’m glad I’m not coaching right now and in that position. I have had to deal with this issue in the past and always made it clear that the decision about how to move forward was hers to make and I would support that decision in any way I could. It breaks my heart to know that now some will no longer be able to make their own decision without the threat of being tracked, reported, arrested, and charged with a felony for what, until recently, had been a right.
So many people say, leave politics out of sports. (Obviously, not me, and not you. But lots of them.) Why should we not leave politics out of gymnastics, in particular?
GM: Because treating all people fairly and equally has become politicized by those who would not. Everyone, including those of us involved in sports, who believes in the rights and fair treatment of all people regardless of religion, gender, race or sexual orientation, should be free to speak in support of those rights.
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