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Nancy Hogshead-Makar with twin daughters, Millicent, left, and Helen Clare.
Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Sep. 29, 201512:00 PM EST

First Coast Success: Nancy Hogshead-Makar championing women's equality in sports

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Nancy Hogshead-Makar is a civil rights lawyer, athlete and advocate for women in sports.

As an Olympic swimmer, she won three gold medals and one silver medal in the 1984 Summer Olympics.

She is now the CEO of Champion Women, a nonprofit providing legal advocacy for girls and women in sports.

In 2007, Sports Illustrated named her one of the most influential people in the history of Title IX, the federal law enacted 43 years ago that prohibits sex discrimination in education.

Sports Illustrated also ranked her as Florida’s 13th greatest athlete overall in the 20th century and she is a member of 12 halls of fame for athletes.

Hogshead-Makar, 53, earned her law degree from Georgetown University Law Center and is an honors graduate of Duke University.

She and her husband, Scott Makar, a judge on Florida’s 1st District Court of Appeal, have three children: Aaron, 14, and twins Helen Clare and Millicent, both 10. Hogshead-Makar also is an author and public speaker.

What motivated you to focus on promoting equality for women in sports?

As an attorney, I really enjoy being the advocate and when you look at the area in which I can make the most difference, it’s athletics. It’s sort of my Zen.

How successful are your efforts?

Sometimes very successful and sometimes not so much. You might remember in 2009, I sued the Florida High School Athletic Association, along with a law firm here in town, and we were very successful in a budget-cutting move. This was during the financial crisis. They cut between 20-40 percent of all competitive opportunities, except for football.

So that means 30 percent of boys didn’t have cuts and 100 percent of girls had cuts. So, this was kind of a no-brainer. This is not something we should ever have had to involve a court in, but we were very successful in getting all the games restored for both boys and girls across the board. So that was a real win.

Some of the current losses are still in process right now. We’re trying to get the NCAA to evaluate whether or not schools are in compliance with Title IX and then not certifying them.

You were born in Iowa. What brought your family to Florida?

My dad was a professor at the University of Florida in orthopedics, but he wanted to go into private practice. I was 11 years old. He was the president of the Cathedral Rehabilitation Center (now Brooks Rehabilitation), so I had to go to an Episcopal school because the hospital was associated with the Episcopal Church.

That’s where the great coach was, Randy Reese. He’s the one that said, “You know if you want to be a great swimmer, you can do it.”

Did you always swim?

My parents bought a boat and they wanted to drown-proof my brother and me. We started off our summer swimming and it just went from there. I got very lucky and had good coaches. Getting on a good team is a make-or-break, to have an established standard of what excellence is all about, and that’s what Randy Reese provided.

I left home to train for the 1980 Olympics, so I went to Gainesville High School for 21/2 years. I graduated from Gainesville High School. I have an honorary degree from Episcopal High School. (Now Episcopal School of Jacksonville.) I went from there to Duke University.

Describe the feel of winning three Olympic gold medals.

It’s an extraordinary feeling, but the race and the award ceremony is a whopping half-an-hour out of your life. The part that is truly extraordinary, the part that stays with me, is what it feels like to be excellent, what it feels like to have put your 10,000 hours into something, to feel a type of beauty that you can’t get from mascara, to feel a kind of grace with God to feel that connection.

Do you still swim?

I don’t. I’ve got three kids and my husband is a judge who goes to Tallahassee frequently. I do yoga and I run and I ride my bike.

What motivated you to attend law school?

Before I went to law school I was doing three things. I was endorsing a lot of products and doing a lot of motivational speaking and I was the president of the Women’s Sports Foundation. I was with the foundation for 30 years, and I could tell the people that were having the most fun in the gender equity issues were the lawyers.

I think today if you look at me you would say, “You look like a female.” But when I was growing up, I was very strong and muscular and I used to walk into bathrooms and people would say, “Hey, that sign says women.”

And to get told on a regular basis, a surprisingly regular basis, “I wouldn’t want to get caught in a dark alley with you.” … I was told constantly that “what you are doing is against social norms.”

There was always this undercurrent of, “you’re really not going to fit in the rest of your life. You’re really going to have a hard time getting married. People are going to be too intimidated.”

But I also understood how empowering a sports experience was and how important it was, and I wanted to make sure other women had that opportunity.

You do a lot of public speaking and there’s an event that you’ve talked about, when you were attacked and raped on the Duke University campus in 1981 and you were 19 years old. How did you survive that and go on to compete in the Olympics? How has that shaped your vocations and your focus?

First of all, I was believed that it happened and that’s really important for victims. And two, people believed the depth of my emotional trauma at the time.

When you look at what Duke had to do in order to have me stay in school … I had to switch dorms because where I used to have to go from the library to the dorm, I had to walk through the woods.

I was raped in the woods. I had to switch my classes around. I dropped two classes right away, so the classes didn’t even show up on my transcript. They wiped them away.

It happened right before Thanksgiving and I promptly got into two car accidents. After the second one, I just sort of felt like life was completely out of control.

My parents said go get on an airplane. Come home. So I didn’t pack. I went to the airport and got a ticket and paid some crazy amount to just get on the next plane and just went home.

I didn’t take another two class finals until a couple of months later. As a professor now, I can appreciate what a big deal that is.

They provided counseling. I actually quit swimming and I kept my full scholarship. They really kept me in school. If you look at my transcript it’s a real blip on the screen. I had a bad case of PTSD so I couldn’t sleep. I used to check the door, making sure it was locked, and checked the windows, probably 10 times a night making sure everything was OK.

I was embarrassed about how I was feeling. I was trying sort of to hide, but you have to tell all the victims out there, because it’s something like 1 in 4 or 1 in 5 women out there is going to be sexually assaulted, it does end. You are going to be fine.

There are plenty of women my age that are doing great who have fantastic families, beautiful families, who have careers they are proud of, and are active in their community.

Everything that you are worried that it might mean for you for the rest of your life doesn’t mean that. Ultimately you are going to look back and this would be a terrible blip on the screen, but you’re going to be fine.

I don’t think we hear that very much. I think what we hear are when people are raped, they’re messed up for the rest of their lives. And that’s just a false narrative. We need to cut that one out.

Was he caught and prosecuted?

Never caught. Back then they didn’t have DNA testing. My feeling was he had to have left town because he was beaten up, too. We fought. It was a 21/2-hour event. We fought in brush, so we were both really scraped up. I was a very big strong woman. There was no weapon involved, so it was a fight to the death. The event was in every newspaper.

He was never caught so I didn’t have to go through the criminal justice system, but I hold everybody’s hand who had to go through that.

You’re a community leader. What advice do you have as the city moves forward?

It’s such a great city. I think there’s so much to offer. My big push right now is having an equal rights ordinance here in Jacksonville so the LGBT community can really get the same protections that women have and African-Americans have and that they can’t be fired for their sexual orientation.

I think that’s really important for the business aspect. Lots of business leaders have come out and said the same thing

What else would you like to share?

I would like for people to go on Facebook to Champion Women. On Twitter, it’s the same. It’s a powerful statement to say that you champion women.

We want to make sports a welcoming place for women to feel that in the few areas that we sex-segregate, we’re going to value what women do just as much as we value what it is that men do.

***

On swimming as a world-class athlete for years

“That sense of being strong and powerful and that I was in control of the water.”

On her children swimming

“It’s really not their thing. I want them to find their own thing. My parents were not swimmers. I’m just opening up doors for my kids and figuring out what they’ll pick up and do.”

On the family’s fun

“Once a year we go on vacation with my parents and my siblings and all the grandkids. We really like to do family things together. We have an older house that was built in 1923 and we’re constantly doing house projects.”

On Champion Women making change

“Champion Women uses legal expertise to try to get change to happen to scale. We’re coming up with projects that try to get the community involved in gender equity in athletics rather than just rely on the courts or the Department of Education. Title IX athletics cases are unique in that there usually aren’t ambiguities in the law and in the facts — and those are the only two things that should require a judge’s intervention. Schools should not require girls to use our tax dollars — in court or an administrative agency — to be able to make those big changes for equality. Schools should be making the changes on their own. Champion Women can empower community leaders to get those changes for girls’ opportunities.”

On Title IX

“I came out of high school, I was world champion, about as accomplished as you could get and I can tell you that if it hadn’t been for that law, I couldn’t have gotten a college scholarship. I want to make sure that as many girls as possible have that experience. I wish I could say we were there yet, but in high school, girls still have 1.3 million fewer opportunities.”

***

Nancy Hogshead-Makar bio box

Age: 53

Title: CEO, Champion Women, a nonprofit advocating for equality, accountability and transparency in sport; lawyer; author; public speaker and activist

Focus: Access and equality for participants, sexual harassment, sexual abuse and assault, employment and pregnancy discrimination and legal enforcement under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the Sports Act.

Family: Husband, Scott Makar, a judge on Florida’s First District Court of Appeal; three children: Aaron, 14, and Helen Clare and Millicent, both 10

1984 Olympics: Three gold medals and one silver medal

Books: “Equal Play; Title IX and Social Change,” co-authored with Andrew Zimbalist; “Pregnant and Parenting Student-Athletes; Resources and Model Policies,” published by the NCAA.

Public comment: Testified in Congress numerous times about gender equity in athletics, written articles, frequent guest on national news programs, including CNN, ESPN, NPR, Fox News, MSNBC and 60 Minutes; expert witness in Title IX cases and authored amicus briefs representing athletic organizations in precedent-setting litigation.

Law: Practiced at Holland & Knight in both the litigation and public law departments; was a tenured law professor at the Florida Coastal School of Law, teaching courses including Torts, Sports Law, and Gender Equity for 12 years.

Women’s Sports Foundation: 30-year history, starting as a college intern, becoming the third president from 1992-94, it legal adviser from 2003-10, and a consultant as the senior director of advocacy until 2014.

Education: Law degree from Georgetown University Law Center; honors graduate of Duke University.

Awards: Numerous, including the International Olympic Committee’s Women and Sport Award for the Americas; the Courage Award from the National Organization for Women; the Honor Award from the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletic Administrators; the Title IX Advocate Award from the Alliance of Women Coaches; the Babe Didrikson Zaharias Award; honorary doctorate, Springfield College.

Halls of Fame: Inducted into 12, including the International Swimming Hall of Fame, the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame and the CoSida Academic All-America Hall of Fame.

***

The Daily Record interviewed Hogshead-Makar for “First Coast Success,” a regular segment on the award-winning 89.9 FM flagship First Coast Connect program, hosted by Melissa Ross. These are edited excerpts from the interview.

The interview is scheduled for broadcast this morning and will replay at 8 p.m. on the WJCT Arts Channel or at wjc.org/ondemand.

[email protected]

@MathisKb

(904) 356-2466

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