How College Coaches are Navigating the Post-Roe World in Search of Middle Ground

by Michael Nguyen
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Last summer, Cecile Landi had a conversation with her gymnasts that she never thought she would need to have. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, so she wanted to make sure they knew that no matter what, she is there for them. Before coaching with her husband Laurent, Cecile competed in the 1996 Olympics representing France.

Landi, a coach from Texas (which has one of the strictest abortion bans in the US), is willing to do whatever it takes if any of her athletes get pregnant. This includes Simone Biles (an Olympic medalist) and Jordan Chiles (a silver medalist in the 2020 Olympics). Discussing this private topic is now part of Landi’s role.

“What I do is more than just coaching; it’s building a deep connection with my athletes that goes beyond sports and into everyday life,” she said.

Landi’s way of taking care of the athletes reflects how things have changed in sports, especially when it comes to working with women.

Since Roe v. Wade was overturned, coaches and athletes have had to pay more attention to many issues that are related to sports, such as how the rules around someone’s name, image, or likeness keeps changing. They also need to consider LGBTQIA+ inclusions and transgender rights, as well as if states should track what is happening with high schoolers’ periods. Because of all these things changing so frequently, coaching has become a very difficult job for some people.

Dr. Kathryn Ackerman, from Boston who works on sports medicine and is the head of a committee for U.S Olympic and Paralympic looking after women’s health, said that female athletes are getting overwhelmed with all the issues that they have to face these days.

The Supreme Court made an important decision called the overturn of Roe. This decision means that each individual state can decide now if abortion is allowed or not. Since then, many states have created laws that either limit or completely ban abortion rights for women. NCAA sports for women are in uncharted territory due to this ruling.

For many years, high school athletes didn’t think about abortion laws when deciding which college to go to. But for some girls, that has changed. If an athlete gets pregnant and belongs to a state with strict laws about abortion, their coach may find themselves in a difficult spot if the athlete chooses to tell them.

Many coaches from the NCAA, which is an organization in charge of college sports, have to leave out their own personal opinions if one of the athletes under their care tells them about a pregnancy. These coaches talked to The Associated Press about this (but kept it private) because this can be a sensitive topic.

It’s easier for people who work in states like California, where it is legal to get an abortion. But it’s harder to get one if you live in states like Texas, Alabama, Oklahoma and Tennessee which have passed laws that make abortions difficult or illegal. These four states also have a lot of colleges with female sports teams.

Greg Marsden used to coach gymnastics at Utah for a long time until he retired in 2015. He always supported whatever choices his athletes made, but he’s relieved that now he isn’t responsible for handling this anymore.

He said it was heartbreaking to think that some people wouldn’t be able to make their own decisions without the risk of getting arrested because what they were doing had been legal before.

Marsden, a retired athlete, said that athletes should not worry about the consequences of speaking to somebody who could help them in any way. Landi works for World Champions Centre north of Houston which is owned by Biles family and this allows her to express her opinion without any restrictions.

Many college coaches have to follow orders from lots of people. This includes athletes, athletic directors, college presidents, and even from the people who make rules (governing boards). Everyone has their own different opinions so it’s hard for the coaches to speak out on certain topics. That’s why they don’t usually talk publicly about these things.

At the professional level, organizations like the WNBA and NWSL have organizations that help players living in states with tough abortion laws find solutions. However, things are much more difficult for college athletes.

Less than one year after the court’s decision, some coaches told the press that when people are picking a college, how strict a state is on abortion can be part of their decision. One coach said somebody wanted to go to a place with good protections for abortion rights.

The coach of the Rutgers women’s gymnastics team, Umme Salim-Beasley, even said her daughters only looked at colleges in states where they weren’t trying to restrict abortions too much.

Salim-Beasley was really surprised with her daughters’ thought process, but she believes that this is how kids nowadays think differently compared to when she was in high school. She didn’t need to be concerned about politics back then but now, teens and college students are a lot more aware of what’s happening.

Tara VanDerveer is the coach of the Stanford Women’s Basketball team. She comes from a state where getting an abortion is allowed, but Tara won’t tell her recruits about that. Instead, she says they must figure it out themselves or talk to their families for help.

When Marsden was a coach at the University of Utah, his job wasn’t just about teaching athletes about the game. He had to do a lot of other stuff like driving them on road trips and even tidying up the gym after practices.

As time moves on, coaches are finding that the actual coaching part of their jobs is not taking up as much of their day. They have lots of other things to do, like creating a team culture everyone can feel good about, building relationships with players from all kinds of backgrounds, and making sure everyone’s needs (even when they don’t know what those needs are) are taken care of. Plus, they still have to win games!

Coach Ackerman said that coaches have a lot of pressure put on them and that it would be better if teams had more resources so the coach doesn’t have to be everything. He mentioned resources like sports psychologists, doctors, nutritionists or dieticians to help the team.

At the very top of men’s and women’s sports, there are measures put in place. But now those who train female athletes have to worry that certain rights may be taken away from them. Still, a lot of people see coaching as something special and so it is unlikely for this to make people stop being coaches.

“Life is getting more difficult,” Ackerman said. “If someone wants to be a coach, they have to learn how to handle all the changes that come with the job. That’s their choice.”

Additionally, many different sports writers from across America helped create this report.

If you want to stay up-to-date with the latest sports news, you can check out these websites: https://apnews.com/hub/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports.

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