By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
Before the start of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, Nancy Hogshead-Makar and her U.S. teammates received some advice from 1964 Olympic gold medalist Donna de Varona – words of wisdom that continue to resonate with her almost 30 years later.
“She told us that (as a result of the Olympics) we were going to be famous – and asked us what we were going to do with that fame?” said Hogshead-Makar, who also made the 1980 Olympic team that boycotted the Moscow Olympics to make a political statement. “I knew I wanted to use my fame to help others in some way – to be an advocate for women in athletics and anywhere else I might be needed. It’s something I took very seriously and continue to take seriously.”
Hogshead-Makar – who went on to win three gold medals and one silver medal to become one of the biggest stars in those Soviet-less Olympics – has done exactly what she intended in the three decades since. She retired from the sport right after the Olympics and picked up the torch specifically for women and girls and their right to equality in funding in sport.
She continues to champion their legal rights afforded through Title IX of the Equal Education Amendments Act – legislation passed in 1972 which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any educational institution receiving federal funding – as a representative of the Women’s Sports Foundation.
Hogshead-Makar has accomplished this in varying career phases and levels of involvement with the organization over the past 27 years – first as an intern, then as a member of the board, board president (1992-94), the organization’s legal advisor (2003-10) and currently as the Senior Director of Advocacy, a full-time position she works remotely from her home in Florida.
She remains one of the foremost proponents of gender equity in education, including sports participation, sexual harassment, employment, pregnancy and legal enforcement under Title IX. She is the co-author of Equal Play, Title IX and Social Change, with Andrew Zimbalist, and is the lead author of Pregnancy and Parenting Student-Athletes; Resources and Model Policies, published by the NCAA.
“I’ve been afforded many opportunities in and around sports because of Title IX and the tireless work of women who have become my role models – Donna Lopiano (the former CEO of the Women’s Sports Foundation and one of the most influential women in sports), Donna de Varona, (former University of Iowa Women’s Athletic Director) Christine Grant from afar – the list goes on and on,” said Hogshead-Makar, a mother of three with husband, Scott, a judge on Florida’s First District Court of Appeal. “But that wasn’t always the case, and we still need to be vigilant in our fight to uphold this law that affords girls the same opportunities as boys.”
Growing up in a household where chores were not gender-specific and with parents who supported her interests as much as her older brother’s, Hogshead-Makar, who said she was teased mercilessly growing up because of her last name, never had to fight for the right (at home) to compete in sports like other girls at the time she was growing up.
“My parents always supported whatever I wanted to do and didn’t pin gender-roles on me or my brother; I wasn’t expected to play with dolls or do the dishes or laundry because that’s what girls did at the time,” she said.
“My brother and I were given the same opportunities, and swimming was the sport I gravitated to. I was always pretty naturally muscular, which girls and women weren’t supposed to be in the 1970s, and I honestly envied the other girls who were more angular and thinly built, but my physique ultimately afforded me the opportunity to excel in my sport.”
These days when she’s not advocating for the rights of women in sport, Hogshead-Makar can be found teaching sports law classes at the Florida Coastal School of Law, where she is a tenured professor. She earned her law degree from Georgetown University Law Center and is an honors graduate of Duke University, where she swam undefeated throughout her collegiate career.
A member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame and the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame, as well as a past winner of the Kiphuth Award, given to the best all-around swimmer nationally, Hogshead-Makar said she will continue to use her position, experience and name to push for continued better opportunities for athletes – women in particular.
It’s definitely become her lifelong passion – a labor of love.
“It’s something that runs deep in my blood and something I will always fight for,” said Hogshead-Makar, who was presented with the National Organization for Women’s (NOW) Courage Award in 2011 and was inducted into the National Consortium for Academics and Sports Hall of Fame. Last year, she was awarded the Title IX Advocate Award from the Alliance of Women Coaches.
“We all need someone to have our back, to have a voice for us when we may not, and that’s how I see my role. I am incredibly proud of the opportunities I had as a girl in the 1970s that led to a great swimming career, and I want to make sure other girls and women have the same rights and opportunities. It’s why I love what I do.”