Notebook > Sports

Cut & run

Sports | Pregnant athletes often must choose between a child and a scholarship

Issue: "Goodbye again," June 9, 2007

When University of Memphis student-athlete Cassandra Harding became pregnant three years ago, she hardly fit the picture of a bubbly expectant mother eager to share the news. Harding dreaded the necessary meeting with her track coaches, knowing it would mark the end of her free ride to an education. She initially considered an abortion.

But better a terminated scholarship than a terminated baby. "I'm so happy I have my baby," Harding said on a recent ESPN broadcast highlighting several stories of college athletes with unplanned pregnancies. After giving birth, the talented jumper walked back onto the track team, proved she could still compete, and reclaimed her scholarship.

Despite that happy ending, the university has taken heat for its policy of revoking scholarships when athletes become pregnant. Harding said that she and the other women on the track team signed a document agreeing to as much. Critics, including some pro-life advocates, charge that such a policy pressures women into having abortions. The Memphis athletic department says it has violated no laws.

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Indeed, schools are allowed to make decisions in such cases without NCAA oversight. Athletes often lose their scholarships for sustaining an injury while engaged in some risky extracurricular activity, and many colleges and universities view pregnancy in the same light.

Next month, the NCAA will review its policy of affording schools such independence. Current national guidelines allow pregnant athletes to apply for an extra year of athletic eligibility, effectively providing a second red-shirt season. But that provision is often not enough to keep women from choosing abortion. The ESPN report featured interviews with seven women from Clemson University who said they felt coerced to have abortions in order to preserve their free education.

Such stories raise questions about culpability. Most of the public and media outrage in response to the seven Clemson women takes aim at the athletic department's policy. Few critics have addressed the athletes' decisions to choose money over life.

Barbara Osborne, a sports law researcher at the University of North Carolina, told the Associated Press that, while legal, the Clemson policy "smacks of moralizing" and "seems very 1940s and '50s." Other critics call the policy sexist, because it only punishes women for pregnancy and never men. Of course, were any male athlete to gain 30 pounds through foolish behavior, he would likely lose his scholarship, too.

Dirty Spurs

The San Antonio Spurs are angling toward another NBA championship, their third in the past five years and fourth since 1999. Such dominance approaches levels of past NBA dynasties, an achievement all the more impressive in today's climate of rampant free agent roster moves.

But the Spurs are not nationally celebrated in the manner of Michael Jordan's Bulls, Magic Johnson's Lakers, or Larry Bird's Celtics. One possible reason: dirty play.

Forward Bruce Bowen has taken heat during these playoffs for kneeing Phoenix guard Steve Nash, a two-time league MVP, in the groin and kicking Phoenix forward Amaré Stoudemire in the calf. The league has investigated past charges against Bowen, aka "ankle breaker," that he intentionally positions his foot beneath jump-shooting opponents to cause awkward landings and injuries.

Spurs guard Manu Ginobili likewise draws accusations of poor sportsmanship, often delivering dramatic acting performances to trick referees into questionable foul calls.

During the fourth quarter of a 91-79 victory over the Utah Jazz in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, angry fans threw debris onto the court after Ginobili's antics helped him score 11 points from the free-throw line and provoked four technical fouls from the Jazz.

Around the Horn

TENNIS: Roger Federer began his annual quest to win the French Open with a straight sets victory over American Michael Russell May 22. The Swiss superstar is the only player to twice capture three of his sport's four Grand Slam events in a single year. But many analysts resist crowning Federer the greatest ever until he masters the clay courts of France.

OLYMPICS: The Austrian Olympic Committee served lifetime bans to 14 athletic officials for their involvement in a blood-doping scandal at last year's games in Turin, Italy. The committee also warned that any future perpetrators would receive the same harsh penalties, part of the country's effort to land the 2014 Winter Games in Salzburg.

BASEBALL: As of May 21, the New York Yankees had outscored their opponents 256-236 and yet occupied the cellar of the American League's East division with a record of 21-28. By comparison, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, tied for last place with an identical record, had scored far fewer runs (230) and allowed far more (294). Such numbers exasperate Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who shelled out $200 million for one of the worst teams in baseball.


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