In A Sea Of Plaudits For Bryant, Hogshead-Makar Issues Plea For More Men To Advocate For Women’s Safety In Sport

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Nancy Hogshead-Makar, the 1984 three-time Olympic gold-medal winner, has issued a plea for more men “to become advocates for women in sport, including advocating to lower women’s risk of sexual violence in sport”.

Having spent a legal career doing both those things, Hogshead-Makar swam against the tide of plaudits for Kobe Bryant, after he died in a helicopter accident last Sunday, when she recalled the rape and sexual-assault case brought against the basketball ace in 2003.

Citing an Outsports.com article that started with the words “When Kobe Bryant apologized for calling an official a ‘fucking faggot’ in 2011, he vowed he would start advocating for the equality of LGBTQ people” and praised the player for having followed through in admirable style, Hogshead wrote in a public Facebook post: “Reading this article crystalizes the problems I have with Kobe Bryant and figuring out his legacy.

“When Kobe called a referee a homophobic slur in 2011, he didn’t offer a half-apology; it was full-throated, and he backed up these words with action.👏👏👏 Yup, we all make human mistakes, and that’s how to learn from them.

“When you know better, you do better.” – Maya Angelou.✊

Then Hogshead-Makar highlighted a different chapter of Bryant’s life when she wrote: “But after Kobe was accused of rape and strangulation, he remained silent on the subject, despite sexual violence throughout the sports world. Worse, he allowed the press and his fans to punish this 19 y/o kid brutally.”

That’s where Hogshead’s own history kicked in to explain one of the reasons she’s been a passionate advocate for change:

“I remember being a 19 y/o bloodied rape victim, and feeling God-forsaken, lower than dirt. I can’t imagine having the crush of loud male fans that legitimize the loud … commentators that would reverberate in her head; to not be able to escape her rapist’s presence in her life.”

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Nancy Hogshead at Duke in her student and swimmer days – Photo Courtesy: Champion Women

It was the year after she had qualified for the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games over 200m butterfly and 400m medley, only to be denied by boycott, that the 19-year-old Hogshead was raped while out jogging around campus at Duke. The local paper headline read “Female student raped while running alone“, the last word a controversy in itself, the emphasis placed not on the criminal but  on what the woman might have contributed to the crime of rape being committed.

Carrie Steinseifer and Nancy Hogshead at the 1984 Olympics – Photo Courtesy – Swimming World Magazine

At a home Olympic Games at Los Angeles in 1984, Hogshead shared a first and historic shared Olympic gold in the 100m freestyle with Carrie Stenseifer and took gold with teammates in the 4x100m free and medley relays as well as silver in the 200m medley behind teammate Tracy Caulkins.

Hogshead has spent many years since as a high-profile advocate of gender equity in sports and a specialist on Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

In her Facebook post, she writes: “Kobe did not follow-up to support the issue of sexual violence, even within sport” after the case against him was dropped and he settled a civil suit with his accuser for an undisclosed amount of money. Bryant also paid $4m for the diamond ring he gave to his wife as an apology for his adultery.

Hogshead-Makar raises the issues at the heart of decades of work conscious that she does so at a time of mourning for Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and the other seven victims of the helicopter crash.

In a series of questions, the lawyer wonders what learning curve the player went on, when almost a decade younger that he was when he became embroiled in the homophobia controversy. Had he used his Athlete Voice for advocacy in women’s sport?:

  • “Did he reach out to his male peer-athletes or advocates, Joe Ehrmann or Richard Lapchick or Jackson Katz or Don McPherson? What about any of the amazing women writers, lawyers, counselors, researchers doing this work?
  • “Did he throw his weight behind fellow-Olympians McKayla Maroney or Aly Raisman on Twitter when they disclosed being assaulted by Larry Nassar, the USA Gymnastics team doctor?
  • “How about the 250+ MONTHLY reports of sexual abuse reported to the US Center for SafeSport?
  • “How about other victims of athlete sexual violence like Brenda Tracy, Kim Rhodenbaugh Lewallen, Katherine Redmond and 100s more?
  • “What would it have meant for women to have Kobe Bryant – THE KOBE BRYANT – talk to a locker room about sexual violence the way he addressed LGBT hate … just once?
  • “What about supporting the 2011 Title IX Dear Colleague Letter, that spawned young women to become advocates, like It’s On Us, End Rape on Campus, Know Your IX: a project of Advocates for Youth, The Hunting Ground. How about opposing Secretary Betsy DeVos’ attempts to weaken those protections?
  • “How about all the national groups addressing sexual violence on campuses and in sport? CHILD USA, National Coalition Against Violent Athletes, Stop It Now!, Set The Expectation, National Women’s Law Center, @Public Justice, Equal Rights Advocates, AAUW, National Organization for Women (NOW), California Women’s Law Center, Women’s Law Project.
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Nancy Hogshead Makar Photo Courtesy: Champion Women

She opines: “There are abundant ways to get involved with the issue of sexual violence in sport, and despite his personal experience with it, Kobe Bryant chose to remain silent. That’s part of his legacy too, and a sad one, an opportunity gone with his death.”

With a nod to Swimming World‘s look at the Athlete Voice in our 2020s Vision series, Hogshead-Makar says:

“I have a lot to say about the athletes voice. Primarily, give yourself time to grow it. Find mentors. Hear others speak and all the different styles. Find your own. Think about what you want the audience to be ‘left with’.

She added: “Normally after I talk [about her experiences and advocacy] people act like I’m their best friend — they KNOW me. We’re peers.”

It wasn’t always so:

“The first few times I talked about my rape, it landed like a thud. Everyone was so uncomfortable they just left quickly. It was awful for everyone. I knew I had a lot to say…”.

She listened to other victims of rape and, among may others, advocates for greater understanding of human development and how boys are raised, such as Joe Ehrmann:

 

“I also listened to the many stories of rape — those whose abusers were famous, those whose abusers were beloved family members or admired priests, those whose rapists also tortured them… people who were raped as kids and post-menopause,” says Hogshead-Makar.

“I heard what they needed. What healing looked like – I could see healing. I thought about if I could roll back time, what would I do differently? I am still figuring out how to make sure the story is NOT, ‘Nancy was raped and she overcame it to win gold in the Olympics’.”

She recalled what it was like to stand up and speak about her rape: “Before you hear anyone else talk or read about it, it feels so monumental that merely saying it out loud it feels like there should be thunderous applause. But truly, there is 1 in 4 of women who’ve been raped, and 1 in 7 men, sooooo … there are a lot of people who have the same story. It really isn’t enough to have a good story. What does it mean for the audience?”

Her message to athletes was to resist efforts to silence them when the opposite is what is required. She concludes with a special plea to male athletes:

“Come on guys … we need more men to become advocates for women in sport, including advocating to lower women’s risk of sexual violence in sport.”

2 comments

  1. avatar
    Don Gambril

    Nancy has been a very strong advocate on Women victims. It has been a life long undertaking. It brings a feeling of pride to me every time I witness her efforts.
    She was a member of the 1984 Olympic Team earning Gold Medals which hopefully helped in overcoming the Personal she had to bear.
    SHE is a lifelong CHAMPION.

    • avatar
      Craig Lord - Swimming World Editor-in-Chief

      Thank you for that comment, Don… I hope many others within the USA swimming family will come to see the wisdom of your words and her work. These issues are not easy but then nothing worth working through with a goal of betterment ever is.

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