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Transcript: The Sports Apocalypse

The full episode transcript for The Sports Apocalypse

In Their Court: The Experiment

NBC News

Episode 5: The Sports Apocalypse

IBTIHAJ MUHAMMAD, NBC HOST: A note before we begin in our episode. In this episode we report on critical opinions some have about the NCAA and NCAA leadership. We reached out the NCAA for comment, but the association didn’t get back to us.

SEN. MARIA CANTWELL, COMMITTEE CHAIR, (D-WA): Good morning. The Commerce Science and Technology Committee will come to order. Thank you all for being here. This morning we have a distinguished panel to talk about the continuation of a very important issues; that is changes to name image and likeness for athletes across the United States of America.

MUHAMMAD: It’s June 17, 2021. We’re on Capitol Hill where Senator Maria Cantwell from Washington state has just convened a hearing to discuss an issue she says is central to the well-being of athletes across America, the personnel rights to their NIL or name, image, and likeness.

Over the last few years student athletes across the nation have started to protest the lack of resources and unfair conditions they compete under. Senator Cantwell’s congressional testimony reflects these athletes’ concerns.

CANTWELL: I’m submitting testimony from Washington state football player Dallas Hobbs and also Sedona Prince, an Oregon Basketball player, with thousands of dollars of medical bills after an injury and also pointed out the inequities in training facilities during the NCAA tournament.

But we’re here today to welcome a very distinguished panel.

MUHAMMAD: Across from her sit three young women and one man. The man is the father of Jordan McNair. Jordan was a football player at the University of Maryland who collapsed from heat stroke during a practice in 2018 and died two weeks later.

The women on the panel are a mix of past and present NCAA Division 1 college athletes. Their names are Christina Chenault, Sari Cureton, and Kaira Brown.

KAIRA BROWN, STUDENT AND DIVISION 1 ATHLETE, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY: I remember walking into the room where the hearing was held and the doors were -- those fancy doors that are much taller than any person would be, and so we sort of walked through those doors and there were four chairs, so I sat neck to my name placard and I was asked to speak first and I had to bring the mic down because it was a little taller than I was.

And I was able to read my testimony from there.

MUHAMMAD: Kaira Brown is a junior on the track and field team and Vanderbilt University. She was called to Congress in 2021 because of her involvement in athlete advocacy groups and her own experiences as a student athlete.

BROWN: It’s a great honor and privilege to be here. My name is Kaira Brown and I’m a rising junior and track and field athlete at Vanderbilt University. Today I want to share my experience with the NCAA guidelines, gender equity and college athletics and how my thoughts on NIL legislation could alleviate difficulties on both fronts.

MUHAMMAD: Now, almost a year later, she spoke with us about what it was like to testify that day.

BROWN: Reading those words allowed, I felt shaky at the beginning, almost like before a race like, there’s a lot of just adrenaline in your body and you’re trying to really hard not to move but I feel like I definitely did some fidgeting.

MUHAMMAD: Kaira starts to think about what she does to calm herself before a big race.

BROWN: When they call on your marks, I stand behind my blocks, I close my eyes, take a deep breath and then I sort of step into my blocks. And that’s when I sort of signal to my body it’s time to stop shaking, it’s time to focus.

BROWN: Even in the age of Title IX, men’s and women’s sports are not treated equally in college sports. Some of this disparity is systemic but other issues are simply interpersonal.

MUHAMMAD: Kaira has been preparing for this moment for weeks. She cares deeply about student athlete rights and this chance to stand up in front of members of Congress and share her experiences. If this is like a race, she has to trust her body.

BROWN: Once the gun goes off, you’re just running. There’s not a lot of time to think about anything except for run as fast as you physically can. You come to a point where you’re like, this kind of hurts, I’m kind of tired. And that’s the point where you have to trust your strength and fight to the end. And I think that’s why I feel the most calm and that’s how I felt when I caught my groove in the Senate hearing.

BROWN: It’s well known that the NCAA also does more to promote their men sports than their women sports. I think that if female athletes were able to partner with companies or in other ways promote their own athletic endeavors that might be a way to supplement the advertisement the NCAA neglects to provide and bring more viewers to women sports.

MUHAMMAD: This is the crux of why Kaira Brown has come to Congress. She wants student athletes, especially women athletes to have the right to make money. She wants them to be able to turn their athletic success into real compensation.

BROWN: Athletes are full people, deserving of full rights and also full opportunities. We don’t just dribble a basketball or run on track, we also go to school, we also have to eat. We shouldn’t be limited from doing any of those things just because we also happen to be exceptional at a sport.

MUHAMMAD: Kaira’s testimony comes on the heels of multiple states passing NIL law. The earliest was California, which signed into law the first pro NIL bill in 2019. Put forward by state Senator Nancy Skinner.

All of this was a huge deal because it came at a time when a lot was going wrong in the world of sports. Multiple athletes like Rutgers’ basketball player Geo Baker have compared modern college sports to slave labor.

Over 30 states have introduced bill barring transgender students from participating in sports, 13 of which have already passed. And the NCAA published and an external gender review, which proved that the association doesn’t treat men and women equally in sports.

I’m Ibtihaj Muhammad and this is “In Their Court,” a podcast about 50 years of Title IX told through the rich history of women’s basketball. We’re now in the modern day facing the next frontier of Title IX and today’s athletes are raising their voices to new heights, showing up in Congress, making noise and broadcasting their concerns to millions on social media.

They’re waking up to the limitations of Title IX and with new laws learning to color outside the lines.

ARCHIVAL: I think the power is going to be in the players. Once the players know that they can be in control on their own destiny and know that they can really generate different things just from being them, I think that could be the game changer.

DIONNE KOLLER, DIRECTOR, CENTER OF SPORT AND LAW AT THE UNIVERSITY OF BALTIMORE: So the hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee was about a pretty narrow issue, if you remember back at the time. States were passing laws, it started with California to restore athletes name, image and likeness rights. So if you have some familiarity with college sports, what you’ll know is that athletes who compete within NCAA sports did not have a right to market or profit from their name, image and likeness. That is a right that all of us have and the NCAA was sort of stripping those rights away.

MUHAMMAD: That’s Professor Dionne Koller, she’s the director for the Center of Sport and the Law at the University of Baltimore.

KOLLER: The NCAA went to Congress and said, States are starting to get some ideas here, starting to understand their power, we want Congress to get involved. So what happened was Congress held a hearing on whether athletes should be permitted to make money from their name, image, and likeness. Should there be a federal law and if there was a federal law it would displace all these state laws that have been coming on board.

MUHAMMAD: That’s why in 2020, a year before Kaira Brown was invited to Congress, Professor Koller was asked to give her own testimony on name, image, and likeness regulations. In her view, the primary organization pushing back on NIL legislation was the NCAA.

KOLLER: Relative to title, the NCAA was saying that if name, image, and likeness rights were given to athletes, women would suffer. Women athletes would be harmed by that. That sort of sounded like a boogeyman, you know, don’t -- don’t athletes to monetize their name, image, and likeness because we’re going to destroy women’s sports.

MUHAMMAD: This might sound a little odd, how could allowing women to make money to increase their economic power harm them and why would it destroy women’s sports?

KOLLER: I don’t want to make the NCAA’s argument for them because I don’t think they made it very well, I’ll -- I’ll be honest. It was a lot of suggestion. I think they were hinting that if third party sponsors entered into name, image and likeness deals and that money was flowing to athletes, that would be money that was not longer flowing to the schools and then schools would no longer be using that money to sponsor women’s sports teams.

MUHAMMAD: A lot of suggestion is right. Looking back you won’t find many official statements by the NCAA or its member institutions explicitly calling NIL a danger to women. According to Professor Koller, going on record with that would be too easy to disprove but every now and then some of the rhetoric slips into the official record. Take for instance Greg Sankey, Commissioner of the SEC and a NCAA Transformation Committee Co-Chair who spoke at the same 2020 hearing.

GREG SANKEY, COMMISSIONER OF SEC: Well, we've had women's basketball teams play in the national championship and young involved our gymnastics on our network every Friday night.

MUHAMMAD: He notes how visible women college athletes are. But then --

SANKEY: I am concerned that the amount of NIL activity around football and men's basketball will pull away funding from women's sports.

DIONNE KOLLER, ASSOCIATE DEAN AT UNIVERSITY OF BALTIMORE SCHOOL OF LAW, CENTER FOR SPORT AND THE LAW: Well, of course, that's a silly argument because, number one, we don't know that that would happen. But more importantly, Title IX is a federal legal obligation of schools. It's not a sort of if you have money from your outside sponsors go ahead and sponsor some women's sports teams, it's federal law.

MUHAMMAD: From Professor Koller's point of view, there's not really a world in which NIL would threaten the power or sanctity of Title IX.

KOLLER: the second thing that came up, and this came up in the hearing, was that women's sport is just not very popular and women would be big losers in name, image and likeness and it would become very obvious because all the big deals would go to men, you know, the charismatic quarterback.

I remember the car dealership is always the hypothetical that members of Congress put out there. And I remember actually saying at the hearing, Senator, it's not about the car dealership anymore, it's about Instagram influencers.

SEN. ROGER WICKER (R), MISSISSIPPI: Would you -- would you give us some examples of that so that we can understand it?

KOLLER: Yes, I think the car dealership, hometown hero model is an outdated model. And these are things that my kids could explain to you probably better than I can. Women athletes aren't going to be necessarily endorsing the car dealerships, but they are going to have a viral floor routine, they are going to have a great softball game, they're going to have something where they can take their personality, elevate their sport and elevate themselves.

MUHAMMAD: And if it really is about social media followings, the women in the world of college sports are showing up.

Olivia Dunne, a gymnast from Louisiana State University has 1.8 million followers on Instagram. Paige Bueckers, the star basketball player from UConn has 1 million. Haley and Hanna Cavinder, twins who play for the University of Miami's basketball team together have over 800,000 followers. And all four of these players were among 2021's Top 10 Most Followed College Athletes.

KOLLER: I think this showed a fundamental lack of understanding of what's happening in college sports, of what women are doing in college sports and how they, themselves, are influencers and they're making their sports popular. So, both of the arguments, I think, lacked a factual basis. But, it certainly got Congress to sort of sit back and say, oh wait, is this something we need to get involved in?

MUHAMMAD: If any of this surprises you, the way the NCAA is using women's empowerment rhetoric to fight NIL, Professor Koller says it shouldn't. In fact, she thinks this is, historically speaking, textbook.

KOLLER: The idea of protecting women goes very far back generally in the law, right. We need to limit women's sports opportunities because it will affect their fertility down the line. We can't let them play sports. I mean, there's a case that I teach in my sports law class from the 1970s, where an orthopedic surgeon is testifying, saying, it is absolutely not the case that little girls should be allowed to play little league baseball. I mean, their whole bodies could be threatened by the game. So, protecting women is a long-standing tradition in the law, where protection looks like oppression when you sort of unpack it.

MUHAMMAD: Professor Koller has a special name for this kind of paternalism.

KOLLER: I call this the sports apocalypse argument, which is, if you want to make any changes to sports, sports regulators like to put forward it's going to destroy sports. And so, this goes way, way back to the beginning of Title IX. So, if you remember when Title IX was passed in 1972 and it very quickly became understood that this would apply to intercollegiate sports, what did we hear? It's going to destroy sports. It's going to destroy football. It's going to destroy, you know, the whole college athletic culture that we've built in this country. Well, of course, we see it's more popular than ever.

We saw this in the Olympic sphere. It used to be that you couldn't participate in the Olympics if you were considered a professional and gotten money for your sport in any way. Again, if professionals were allowed the idea was it will destroy the Olympics. Well, I think you know, several Dream Teams later we see that the Olympics are still going and on and on and on.

MUHAMMAD: This is exactly why, for years, the NCAA have pushed back on NIL. The association had repeatedly said that athletes were students first, amateurs. There was a fear that if athletes got rights to their own name, image and likeness, wealthy colleges would have a big recruiting advantage, toppling the power dynamics in the world of sports. The NCAA didn't want the statuesque to change.

KOLLER: If you look at Congressional hearings over the decades, what the NCAA says, anytime Congress has held a hearing, we're in the best position to really solve this. Let -- you know -- the last thing we need is the government coming in and ruining sports. And we've got it and we've got the message. And we understand how to implement and make change. We know how to do this right.

MUHAMMAD: And the last thing you want, Professor Koller says, is to be the senator who gets a reputation for ruining sports.

KOLLER: You don't want to be the sort of, I was the senator that led the charge against the NCAA and now we don't have March Madness and everybody's sort of mad. So, there was no good political reason for legislators to get involved, when the NCAA would testify in a reassuring way and say, we hear you and we're going to do more on academic integrity or we're going to do more on due process rights. You know, there have been issues over the decades.

MUHAMMAD: But in 2021, something changed. By then, six states had already passed some form of NIL legislation. This started to make people worry that if a federal law didn't happen soon states with favorable NIL laws would have a huge advantage when it came to recruiting student-athletes. And then, that same year, the Supreme Court took on a case called, NCAA versus Austin. In a unanimous decision --

CRAIG MELVIN, NBC ANCHOR: The Supreme Court ruled that the NCAA may not place limits on education-related benefits that student-athletes can receive.

MUHAMMAD: In explaining the court's decision, Justice Kavanaugh said that the NCAA's business model would be, quote, "Flatly illegal in almost any other industry in America."

KOLLER: The NCAA has had a very restrictive system. They have put numerous restrictions on athlete's name, image, likeness rights. All kinds of things under the guides of amateurism. And what it really had done has privileged a very certain economic model, which is you don't pay your players, you don't give them much of anything beyond the scholarship, if they get a full scholarship. And guess where the money's going? It's going to coaches; it's going to administrators. It's astonishing, the level of dollars that we're talking about. At the NCAA level, you have coaches getting paid a lot more than coaches get paid at a professional level, right? So, what you have is an economic model that's working for everybody except the players.

MUHAMMAD: While this case wasn't directly about NIL, it spoke to the larger issue of how student-athletes were being compensated in the U.S. Soon after, the NCAA decided to adopt an interim policy suspending all NIL restrictions for current and incoming students.

In a statement, NCAA President Mark Emmert said, quote, "This is an important day for college athletes, since they all are now able to take advantage of name, image and likeness opportunities. With a variety of state laws adopted across the country, we will continue to work with Congress to develop a solution that will provide clarity on a national level."

KOLLER: What I see happening across nearly all levels of sport is an athlete-centered movement. Athletes understanding their power. Athletes understanding that they deserve to have great rights and greater say, instead of just deferring to sports regulators.

MUHAMMAD: After the break, we dive into a world with NIL. Big money is on the line.


MUHAMMAD: In August 2021, teams from across the Americas gathered in Guanajuato, Mexico, for the FIBA Under-16 Women's Championship. And by the finals, the two teams left were Canada and the United States. It was something of a blowout, as the U.S. beat Canada 118 to 45. Thankfully, the excitement wasn't lost on our Spanish-speaking announcer.

ARCHIVAL: (Speaking foreign language)

MUHAMMAD: Celebration, celebration, he says. The United States is the winner of the 2021 FIBA U16 America’s Women’s Championship.

ARCHIVAL: (Speaking foreign language)

MUHAMMAD: On that gold medal team is the six-foot talk high school basketball star from Southern California, Judea “JuJu” Watkins. That year she was voted the FIBA U16 MVP. ESPN has since deemed her one of the top two high school players in the nation. Poised to be a class of 2023 top recruit.

Today JuJu plays as a guard for the Sierra Canyon Trailblazers. But she’s not just a decorated young athlete with a promising trajectory to the pro league. JuJu is one of a few players in her generation who represent a big change. She’s one of the first high school players to sign with a major sports agency and get representation in this new age of name, image and likeness.

JUDEA “JUJU” WATKINS, U16 BASKETBALL PLAYER: When I first found out about NIL last year. I remember thinking like it how it could apply to me, not in the future but now, you know, as a high school player. Like what can I start doing now to build my brand or even to sense (ph) to be making money so that when I get to college I’m in a good position to where, you know, my brand is built, I’ve done everything I could to make that happen and that I could be making money on the court and off during my college years.

MUHAMMAD: She’s right. With new NIL regulations passed, JuJu could be set for the future before she’s even made it to the WNBA. At just 16 she could be making brand deals her predecessors might never have dreamed of even at the pro level.

As is, there are only 10 WNBA players in history who have been given a signature shoe deal, one of the greatest markers of success in the basketball world.

WATKINS: I would like to get a shoe deal for high six figures, seven figures, you know, just like outside of the box I’ve never heard of a high school girl doing. I think if I were to get like a seven-shoe deal, I think that would show the youth – like I think it would give them hope that one day this could be you.

MUHAMMAD: In a lot of ways, that is the athlete’s dream. Be a big star, reach the height of your career and land your own brand deal. Who doesn’t want a Nike deal? Or to have a signature adidas shoe like Candace Parker. Or to be Breanna Stewart signing with Puma. It sounds glamorous, right.

Well it’s not all about the glitz and glory. For players like JuJu, who haven’t reached the pro level let alone college, the promise of a brand deal means hope for a financially stable future. Something most women athletes worry about their entire careers.

For context, as of 2021 the average salary of a WNBA player was roughly only 1.5 percent of the NBA player’s average, which is a whopping $7 million.

WATKINS: I feel like that has scared a lot of girls who were like, OK maybe I should focus on a profession more, you know, financially stable. But I feel like if I’m able to make that much money during this period of my life, in high school or in college even, that would aspire a lot of girls to want to pursue and follow their dreams in playing basketball.

MUHAMMAD: As if the prospect of a gender pay gap wasn’t daunting enough, according to an NCAA report published in 2020, less than 2 percent of all college athletes will go professional. Among men’s basketball players only 1.2 percent will go pro. And for women, only .8 percent of players make it to the league.

So imagine being a high schooler or college player and competing for that spot all the while having to worry about your financial future. The pressure can’t be good for you game. And that’s not the only deterrent for young women wanting to build a career in basketball.

WATKINS: You know, last year when I saw the Sedona Prince videos, the inequalities that the girls' basketball team received at that NCAA tournament, you look at the gear that the boys get, and you look at the weight room for the boys. It just may me think to myself like, wow, this is crazy, and will it be like this when I get to college.

MUHAMMAD: The fear that JuJu has about how she’ll be treated in college and whether or not institutions will give her a fair shot is a common one. It’s exactly what Kaira Brown got at with her Congressional testimony.

BROWN: It’s well known that the NCAA also does more to promote their men’s sports than their women’s sports.

MUHAMMAD: And with that in mind, maybe NIL in the hands of young athletes, like JuJu, is a means for women to make up for the neglect and under resourcing they’re bound to face in their careers.

WATKINS: I’m just trying to grow my brand and I think that NIL can really help that. And I think honestly the sky’s the limit. Women’s basketball is always put in like this box. So I feel like pushing on there to break that box. It just gives me the opportunity to inspire others.

ARCHIVAL: A’ja Wilson is a three-time first team all SEC selection. Two-time SEC player of the year. First team all-American and national player of the year finalist.

A’JA WILSON, WNBA ALL-STAR AND FORWARD: I think it all goes back to if you can see her, you can be her.

MUHAMMAD: That’s WNBA All-Star and Forward A’ja Wilson who like Juju sees NIL as a means for women to design their own narrative, their brands and inspire future athletes.

WILSON: You put us out there, if you listen to our stories and see that we’re more than basketball players our stories is what makes us, us and what makes us real. Like, yes, we are killer on the court but at the same time we’re mothers, we’re sisters, we’re daughters, we have stories to tell.

MUHAMMAD: Not too long ago, A’ja found herself in the same position as JuJu; extremely talented, highly sought after, and young. She too was among the top college recruits of her year and a potential future star in the WNBA. But the keep difference between JuJu and A’ja is that A’ja’s college career came before the change in NIL rules.

WILSON: I wish we had the NIL when I was in school. I feel like it would have helped me a lot, just branding wise. I mean I have seen collegiate athletes get deals that I never even thought of. I mean they’re getting their own meals at restaurants. Like that right there is so big for us as women because it allows them to build and connect with their fan base. And once they do that that fan base then follows them to their WNBA team and you grow from there.

And then that’s when they can expand our viewership here at the pro level and get butts in the seats in stadiums and arenas. And that’s how you continue to grow the game. So I think that’s why the NIL is so special for the women’s side because it allows them to really connect people that are going to later on help them at the pro level.

MUHAMMAD: While JuJu and young athletes like here are thinking about using NIL deals to pave the way for college athletes, A’ja is thinking about how it could help put future WNBA players on the same playing field as their male counterparts.

They’re both right. NIL serves as an interesting new tool for self-empowerment in ways that Title IX simply wasn’t designed.

WILSON: I think the power is going to be in the players. Now with this NIL once the players know that they can be in control of their own destiny and know that they can really generate different things (ph) for just being them, I think that could be the game changer especially on the women’s side. Back to storytelling, back to putting yourself out there and wanting to be seen so it can see heard, be heard (ph).

MUHAMMAD: After the break, how we move forward.


MUHAMMAD: In November of 2014 press, politicians and cultural ambassadors gathered in Washington D.C. for a very special event.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you so much. Everybody, have a seat.

MUHAMMAD: That voice probably sounds familiar to you.

OBAMA: Welcome to the White House.

MUHAMMAD: It’s the voice of former President, Barack Obama, then still in office. Standing before a crowd in the White House Ballroom he began speaking.

OBAMA: Once a year we set aside his event to celebrate people who have made America stronger and wiser and more humane and more beautiful with our highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

MUHAMMAD: The Presidential Medal of Freedom has been awarded to the likes of Mother Teresa and Oprah. That day the lineup of recipients included Tom Brokaw, Stevie Wonder, and even Meryl Streep.

OBAMA: I love Meryl Streep. I love her. Her husband knows I love her. Michelle knows I love her. There’s nothing either of them can do about it.

MUHAMMAD: The medal can also be awarded posthumously to people who didn’t survive to see their legacy honored. Among the 19 recipients was a woman who changed the fate of all women in the country. Standing at the podium President Obama explained her contributions.

OBAMA: Every girl in Little League, every woman playing college sports, and every parent including Michelle and myself who watches their daughter on a field or in the classroom is forever grateful to the late Patsy Takemoto Mink.

MUHAMMAD: Patsy Mink was the late Congresswoman from Hawaii who co-authored the piece of legislation that would be enacted in 1972, Title IX.

OBAMA: I’m particularly grateful because she was my Congresswoman for a long time.

MUHAMMAD: Together, with the late Senior Congresswoman Edith Green, Patsy helped ban gender discrimination in schools and armed women with a tool that has helped them jump hurdle after hurdle for the last 50 years.

OBAMA: Patsy was a passionate advocate for opportunity and equality and realizing the full promise of the American dream.

MUHAMMAD: When they set out to make the law a reality, Patsy Mink and Edith Green were concerned with the most fundamental of gender issues, making sure that women got their foot in the door at universities. Today women comprise 60 percent of enrollment at universities across the country. But how as access to sports fared?

Well, in May of 2022 ahead of the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the Women’s Sports Foundation published a report. In recent years women in high school at 3.4 million opportunities to participate in sports, way higher than the dismal 294,000 reported in 1972.

But they also found something else, modern-day rates for women’s participation in school sports are still below the reported rate of men from the 1970s, meaning even when 50 years of progress women are more than half a century behind men in terms of sports opportunities, and there’s something very, very wrong with that.

KOLLER: We’re not where we should be 50 years into the law.

MUHAMMAD: Professor Dionne Koller again.

KOLLER: If you just look at the numbers of participation opportunities, yes, we have many, many more participation opportunities for women than we had in the '70s and '80s. That’s all to the good. But we don’t have the numbers that we could support in terms of women who are ready, willing, and able to compete to the college level.

We still have, I think a general lack of Title IX compliance. There are enough that you don’t see as many women bringing lawsuits to sort of seek getting a team added for instance, but we’re not where we should be considering women’s enrollment in colleges and universities today.

MUHAMMAD: In her line of work Professor Koller spends a lot of time dissecting Title IX trying to figure out what still works and what doesn’t.

KOLLER: It’s the 50th anniversary this year. At this point you can’t just say it was oversight. We need to really dig in and be very intentional about how we’re treating women’s sports to move the needle. And so, we can’t rely on our intuitions, on our standard ways of doing things because those standard patterns of thinking and behavior are all skewed to privileged men's sports.

MUHAMMAD: In her opinion, too much of the work to advance women’s equity in sports happens within the confines of male designed systems. Systems designed to preserve the status quo and bypass the protections of Title IX, no matter how well you compete.

For Professor Koller, developments like NIL or media coverage of gender and race inequality are our best chance at pushing women’s sports past the current plateau. The best thing for the world of sports is actually airing the dirty laundry, naming the problem and not allowing it to live in the shadows.

KOLLER: The message I want to convey is we can criticize sports, we can criticize how we do sports, and still love sports. I come at it from: I love sports, I have made sport my career, I participated in it in a serious way when I was growing up. My children participated in it in a serious way.

I’m a believer in the power of sport and that’s why I engage in healthy criticism of sport because I want sport to be relevant. I want sport to be here so that generations of kids can have the experiences that I had and that my kids had, I think it’s really important.

Looking ahead in terms of the future of gender equity in sport, I think first of all I start with youth sport, I start with the pipeline. Title IX doesn’t apply there, but if we don’t change our pipeline, we’re not going to see any different results under the law as it currently stands.

I think number two we need to have the courage as people who support gender equity in sports to take another look at Title IX and say, do we need amendments to Title IX?

MUHAMMAD: An amendment, would that be so crazy after half a century? Would that risk destabilizing what little solid ground we already have under Title IX?

KOLLER: I think most of the decades, most of the 50 years that Title IX has been in existence has been a play (ph) defense kind of situation. The backlash has been huge, it has been constant. Most of its existence has been fighting for its existence. So I think the next 50 years need to be about how do we tweak, change, amend Title IX to now take it to another level?

GWENDOLYN MINK: It went from one struggle to the next, and the struggles persisted.

MUHAMMAD: That’s Wendy Mink, and she shares a last name with the late Patsy Mink because she’s none other than the Congresswoman’s daughter. She was there as her mother crafted the bill. She was there in the years after as her mother continued to fight for change.

MINK: You know, it’s not like it’s even over. I mean, Title IX applies to sexual harassment and sexual violence. Title IX applies to pregnant and parenting students, but most of the time you have to fight to make sure it’s enforced in a way that delivers on that promise. And sometimes you have to fight against efforts to undermine those guarantees, those efforts to carve out exceptions to Title IX that mean that equality doesn’t matter for these types of people versus those types of people.

Title IX is a living policy that needs to be used in order to be effective. And probably the most important way to remember Title IX is to vindicate it every day by making sure your school or institution actually does deliver equality to all students on the basis of sex and gender.

Girls and women need to know about Title IX, they need to know it’s there for them to deploy if necessary, if they feel affected by discriminatory activities. And unless that happens, unless every generation of girls and women actually deploys Title IX to make sure that it’s enforced, it won’t have the effect that its promise portended. It’s a tool that is only effective if people use it.

MUHAMMAD: A tool, one that needs to be used and at times reworked to make sure it continues to be a beacon of progress for all women and all women athletes. A tool that needs to be pushed to mean more, to do more, a tool that must uphold the promise that no person in the United States –

ARCHIVAL: Shall on the basis of sex –

ARCHIVAL: Be excluded from participation in –

MINK: Be denied the benefits of –

ARCHIVAL: Or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program –


ARCHIVAL: Or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

MUHAMMAD: Words we can’t forget.

“In Their Court,” is written and produced by Preeti Varathan and Abe Selby. Our Associate Producer is Olivia Richard. Additional production help from Amelia Acosta, Sarah Hughes, Rachel Thompson and Bob Mallory. Original music by Jesse McGinty. Sound design by Rick Kwan.

Bryson Barnes is our Technical Director. Steven Roberts and Reid Cherlin are our Executive Producers. Madeleine Haeringer is our Head of Editorial. Special thanks to Robin Gradison, Alex Ziccardi, Nick Offenberg, Soraya Gage, Tess Quinlan and Eileen Sopel.