Sheryl Swoopes

Swoopes: Building on the vision of Title IX

Credit: Katherine Taylor
Sheryl Swoopes
Jun 30, 2022

It’s hard for me to imagine my life without sports. I don’t usually think about how or why I was able to play sports and that luxury is because Title IX played such a huge role in my life, much like the role it will play in those who will play long after me. It’s all because of Title IX that we have been able to largely focus on perfecting our game instead of fighting for the right to play in the first place. Not only do we not talk about that enough, but we also don’t talk about how to build on that vision when it comes to women in professional sports. 

One of the biggest areas women are getting shortchanged in today is pregnancy policies. Female athletes have a far different experience when it comes to parenthood than their male counterparts. I was a mom playing ball, so I know first hand — from taking maternity leave, to dealing with the mental part of being a mom, to physically taking care of a child, to coming back from pregnancy. There are so many different layers to being a mom and a professional athlete, that I don’t even think people truly understand. 

All of these layers can conspire to keep truly talented athletes out of the game or prevent them from reaching their peak potential. It is here where I believe the original vision of Title IX needs to move forward into today’s realities. Now, we have generations of highly qualified female athletes who are playing at the pro level — the next step toward equality is to create policies that ensure their rights and passions are protected throughout pregnancy and motherhood. 

When I became a mom, my mindset immediately went from being this great athlete and competing on the court to determining: how do I become a great mom? How do I take care of my family? When is it time to come back and be that athlete again? Finding balance and the right support system was not easy.

Several weeks after I gave birth, I was back out on the court. But that’s because I was determined to be. Even with my innate motivation, there were many struggles. I didn’t know how to balance motherhood and being an athlete. I felt guilty for leaving my child. I had gained 50 to 60 pounds. I wasn’t even sure if I would be able to come back from it. 

I was watching the NBA playoffs recently, and the announcer noted that one of the players was absent to be at the birth of his child. He was expected to return the next game. For many women, the birth of a child is a career killer. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. 

“I had the pleasure of doing color commentating for Athletes Unlimited in February, and with what they offer as far as help, it was such a family environment. They said bring your kids, even if you have ten! You’re also talking about two men (the co-founders of Athletes Unlimited) that recognize that women need another professional league, there were so many great players getting waived in the WNBA. These two men wanted to give these women what they deserve.” 

As a woman who grew up with Title IX in place and equal participation in sports being my expectation, I have carried that same set of standards with me into the professional world. It is here where we still need to fight and where the legacy of Title IX will continue to build. 

I hope we channel the heart of Title IX and find solutions for every female athlete who is struggling with her career and motherhood.

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