Advocacy in Action

WSF Releases Amicus Brief with Lambda Legal and Athlete Ally, Supporting CIAC

Close up of female athlete getting ready to start running on track . Focus on sneakers

In 2021 alone, eight states passed and signed laws that ban transgender athletes from sports with a majority specifically targeting transgender girls and women. Transgender girls and women continue to be excluded from sport, keeping them from gaining the benefits that come from participating in sports. 

The Women’s Sports Foundation, Athlete Ally and Lambda Legal partnered to file a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, urging the court to affirm a lower court ruling dismissing a challenge to the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference’s (CIAC’s) trans-inclusive policy enabling transgender students to participate in school sports. 

Top athletes in women’s sports joined WSF, Athlete Ally and the Women’s National Basketball Players Association as signatories and in expressing their support for transgender girls and women in sports. With nearly 150 athlete signatories to the brief, this incredible group stands together in the fight for equality that all girls and all women in sports deserve.

You can read the text of the brief here, and WSF’s joint release about the brief here. See below for a list of some of the prominent athlete signatories.

Billie Jean King

Megan Rapinoe

Layshia Clarendon

Meghan Duggan

Phaidra Knight

Aimee Mullins

Brianna Turner

Meike Babel

Gwen Berry

Jaycee Cooper

Imani Dorsey

Grete Eliassen

Sophia Herzog

Angela Hucles

Veronica Ivy

Lori Lindsey

Oksana Masters

Kaiya McCollough

Jessica Mendoza

Elena Meyers Taylor

Nzingha Prescod

Maya Reddy

Angela Ruggiero

Becky Sauerbrunn

Naya Tapper

CeCé Telfer

Chelsea Wolfe


WSF Releases Amicus Brief with NWLC Supporting USWNT

On July 30, 2021, the Women’s Sports Foundation along with our partners at the National Women’s Law Center, filed an amicus brief in the Ninth Circuit supporting the women on the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) in their fight for equal pay and equal treatment. The amicus brief was signed by 63 other organizations committed to advancing gender justice and our pro bono partners at Selendy & Gay PLLC.

A few months prior to the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the USWNT players filed a lawsuit against the US Soccer Federation with alleging gender discrimination. After a federal district judge dismissed the USWNT’s equal pay claims, the players appealed to the Ninth Circuit. With this appeal, the USWNT continues their fight to be treated equally to their male counterparts by their national governing body. The USWNT is a perennial powerhouse, with four FIFA Women’s World Cup titles and four Olympic gold medals.

You can read the full amicus brief here.

WSF Letter Addressing FINA on Olympic Soul Cap Ban

The Women’s Sports Foundation in early July 2021 learned of the decision by the International Swimming Federation (FINA) to ban Soul Cap-branded swim caps at all international competitions, including the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The decision was made because the caps, which are designed for natural Black hair, did not “[follow] the natural form of the head.” Shortly after its initial ruling, the governing body announced that it would reconsider its decision, though it would eventually reaffirm the ban just days before the Olympics began. FINA has encouraged Soul Cap to reapply for approval this fall, offering its full support throughout the process.

On July 12, 2021, we sent a letter to FINA adding our support to those already speaking out against the initial decision.

The full text of our letter can be found below.


Dear President Al-Musallam, 

I am writing today from the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF) which exists to enable girls and women to reach their potential in sport and life. Founded by Billie Jean King in 1974, we are the ally, advocate and catalyst for tomorrow’s leaders. 

We are contacting you to express our deep concern regarding the recent decision by the International Swimming Federation (FINA) to ban the Soul Cap from international competition this summer. 

This decision appears rooted in outdated policies that center around white athletes. For many non-white swimmers, caps like the Soul Cap are a welcome addition to swimming. In fact, research has found that concerns about hair is a barrier to sports participation for girls of color (Woolford, 2016). 

Banning the Soul Cap and other caps that cater to natural Black hair from the elite competition is unacceptable and will continue to deter athletes with natural hair from entering or advancing in the sport. We know the tremendous lifelong social, health and leadership skills that sports provide. For this reason, it is important that sport is a diverse, inclusive and welcoming environment to participants at every level. It is critical that girls of color are not only welcome in swimming, but that they see role models who look like them at the highest levels of sport.

Understanding that the ban is currently being reconsidered, we urge FINA to permanently allow the use of swim caps designed for diverse hairstyles, including at this summer’s Olympics and Paralympics. We also encourage you to take steps to ensure your decision-making is more inclusive in the future.

We stand with Soul Cap, the Black Swimming Association, and all others creating and advocating for greater support of athletes of color. We look forward to your announcement revoking the ban and creating space where Black swimmers are welcomed and celebrated. 


Dr. Deborah Antoine

Chief Executive Officer, Women’s Sports Foundation

WSF Letter Addressing NCAA Gender Equity Review

Muffet McGraw, Signon graphic

Disparities between the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments were on full display this March and now is the time to take action to ensure there is meaningful change. 

On June 30, the Women’s Sports Foundation sent a letter to the NCAA urging full transparency for the findings and recommendations of the comprehensive gender equity review conducted by Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP. Read the official letter here.

LaChina signon graphic

In total, more than 2,700 individualsincluding former Notre Dame women’s basketball head coach Muffet McGraw, basketball analyst LaChina Robinson and University of Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchinsadded their voices to the call for gender equity in college sports. WSF was joined by nearly 60 organizations, ranging from Just Women’s Sports and Angel City FC to the TIME’S UP Foundation and National Women’s Law Center.

WSF appreciates all who signed on and their commitment to speaking out about this important issue. We are committed to holding those in power accountable to enact systemic change that will lead to equitable treatment for all student-athletes.


WSF Releases Amicus Brief with Lambda Legal, Athlete Ally Opposing HB500

In recent years, transgender girls’ and women’s participation in sports has been challenged across the country. In 2020 alone, nearly 20 states introduced bills seeking to ban transgender athletes from sports with over half specifically targeting transgender girls and women. Girls’ and women’s sports continue to be used as a vehicle to discriminate against transgender girls and women. At the Women’s Sports Foundation, our research has shown that access to participate in sports is critical for the development of all girls and women, and we believe it is especially crucial for those who are most marginalized, including transgender girls and women to have access to sport.

The Women’s Sports Foundation, Athlete Ally and Lambda Legal partnered to file an amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to support transgender youth in sports in response to Idaho’s discriminatory HB500. This law effectively bans women and girls who are transgender or intersex from participating in sports and potentially subjects all girls and women to invasive sex testing to determine eligibility. This exclusion is harmful and can have a devastating impact. The Foundation and its partners hope this amicus brief will spur law makers to allow all girls and women athletes the right to compete in women’s sports and to share in the lifelong benefits that come from sports participation.

Top athletes in women’s sports joined WSF and Athlete Ally as signatories and in expressing their support for transgender girls and women in sports. With nearly 200 athlete signatories to the brief, this incredible group stands together in the fight for equality that all girls and all women in sports deserve.

You can read the text of the brief here, and WSF’s joint release about the brief here.  See below for perspectives from some of the champion athletes who signed onto the amicus brief, followed by a list of prominent athlete signatories.

Billie Jean King – WSF Founder

“There is no place in any sport for discrimination of any kind. I’m proud to support all transgender athletes who simply want the access and opportunity to compete in the sport they love. The global athletic community grows stronger when we welcome and champion all athletes – including LGBTQI+ athletes.”

Phaidra Knight – WSF President, US Rugby Player of the Decade and World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee

“Sport is the one thing in my life that’s really brought me into a full person; the people I’ve discovered, the pathways it’s allowed me to take, my ability to touch and inspire others whose lives I’d never have come across. So it’s been amazing. It’s been everything for me. My rugby teammates are like a family to me. And with that goes, like a family, the bad things: you get sick of each other, you argue, you have fights, but at the end of the day that’s your teammate. And like a family member, you always have their back.”

Meghan Duggan – Three-time Olympic medalist and IIHF Women’s World Champion

“I have always wanted to change the world through sports. Playing hockey empowered me and gave me an amazing platform to advocate for the issues that matter the most to me, especially gender equality and LGBTQ+ inclusion… Trans athletes deserve those same rights and equal opportunities in sports. I now mentor young athletes, inspiring them to find their voices through hockey. Every child, regardless of gender identity, should have the chance to access the lifelong skills that sports teach like confidence, perseverance and leadership.”

Aimee Mullins – Former WSF president, Paralympian, actor, model, and public speaker

“I think the greatest adversity that we create for ourselves is this idea of ‘normalcy’ as it applies to human beings. There is no normal. There’s common, there’s typical, but there’s no normal. Whether it’s gender, physical or mental ability, or another categorization used to simplify and make assumptions about people, sports help break down barriers that society imposes.

If we can begin to shift away from the mirage of normalcy and instead view deviations from the common through a lens of possibility, we can increase access to sports and all of the benefits they provide. So many more potential participants would be invited to engage their rare and valuable abilities, both in sport and in their communities.”

Prominent signatories to this amicus brief include:

Billie Jean King

Megan Rapinoe

Candace Parker

Layshia Clarendon

Phaidra Knight

Meike Babel

Pam Boteler

Rachel Dawson

Imani Dorsey

Meghan Duggan

Grete Eliassen

Sophia Herzog

Elena Hight

Tziarra King

Lori Lindsey

Esther Lofgren

Devin Logan

Joanna Lohman

Kaiya McCullough

Aimee Mullins

Mary Osborne

Dawn Riley

Toccara Ross

Becky Sauerbrunn

Collette Smith

Katie Sowers

Brenda Villa

WSF Responds to Knight Commission’s Call for Separate Football Governing Entity

College Football Stadium

The Knight Commission recently released recommendations to create a governing entity for Division I football, separate from the NCAA. While the Women’s Sports Foundation applauds the Knight Commission for its continued efforts and recommendations of useful reforms for collegiate sport, we are concerned that these new recommendations have potential unintended consequences to gender equity. While there has been enormous progress since Title IX was passed, far too many schools are still out of compliance with the law. WSF reached out to the Knight Commission to express our concerns and provide guidance for the independent special task force to ensure that gender equity is a priority in the continued process.

Below, find the letter that WSF sent to the Knight Commission. You can read the Knight Commission’s press release on the subject here.

December 16, 2020

Sent via email

Members of the Knight Commission,

We hope that you and your families are staying safe and healthy during these unprecedented times.

I am writing today from the Women’s Sports Foundation, which since its inception in 1974 by Billie Jean King, has focused on enabling girls and women to reach their potential in sport and life. We applaud the Knight Commission for over the years conducting important assessments and recommending useful reforms for collegiate sports, including those that support gender equity. We appreciate your great work and specifically want to express our gratitude for your recent thorough review of the structure and operations of college athletics. These recommendations are already opening a critical dialogue about the current state of college athletics and highlighting shortcomings in the NCAA financial and operational structure, as well as the need for meaningful reform.

However, we are concerned that potential unintended consequences of creating a separate football governing entity could exasperate gender inequity in college athletics. Restructuring the NCAA to govern all sports other than FBS football has the potential to sidetrack the progress that has been made since the adoption of Title IX. While there has been enormous progress since this landmark legislation was passed in 1972, as we approach the 50th anniversary of Title IX, far too many schools are still not in compliance with the law as it relates to athletics. Indeed, the vast majority of schools are out of compliance. We encourage the Knight Commission to include consideration of gender equity and compliance with Title IX as a key component of the continued review, including by the task force and with the engagement with campus presidents and other leaders.

While we applaud the Knight Commission’s attention to the issues in the report, the recommendations do not address the excessive spending and arms race in FBS football programs and the impact on gender equity. As you know so well, the spending on lavish facilities, coaches’ salaries and recruiting for football puts pressure on many schools’ abilities to provide the equal opportunities and benefits for women that are required under Title IX. In turn, some athletic departments have made the unfortunate decision to drop sports, often focusing on men’s non-revenue sports and in many cases unfairly making Title IX the public reason, when budgetary choices are typically the driving factor. We suggest that you consider aggressive ideas to remedy this situation.

In addition, we were surprised by the recommendation that the Division I governance structure be reorganized around men’s basketball, rather than basketball generally or another gender-neutral model. To realign “incentives, polices and administration in ways that will better support the future of men’s basketball” diminishes the importance of gender equity and institutional obligations to comply with Title IX. Indeed, it would have been terrific if the third recommendation had included a bullet devoted exclusively to gender equity and compliance with Title IX under the newly proposed structure.

In conclusion, as you continue your analysis of bold reform, we respectfully ask the Knight Commission’s independent special task force to:

  • Ensure the task force prioritizes gender equity in the process and recommendations.
  • Evaluate Title IX compliance across college athletics and set strong expectations for member institutions to meet all requirements of the law, regardless of the governance structure(s).
  • Consider measures to address the impact on FBS athletics programs generally as a result of the excessive spending on FBS football.

The Women’s Sports Foundation is available to serve as a resource to you and we are willing to provide additional feedback as your proposals are refined.


Dr. Deborah Antoine

Chief Executive Officer, Women’s Sports Foundation


Cc: Amy Perko, Chief Executive Officer

An Open Letter to University and College Presidents and Athletics Directors

NCAA Basketball Court


June 25, 2020 

Dear Colleagues, 

This week marks the 48th anniversary of Title IX. As you know, this landmark law provided amazing opportunities for girls and women in education and is especially known for the doors it has opened for women and girls in sportsHowever, far too many schools and institutions are still not in compliance with the law as it relates to athletics.  

Over the last few months, we have been following the news as schools announce their intentions to drop sports as a way to curb the financial burdens of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

We write to implore you to consider the Title IX ramifications of dropping sports before you consider doing so. 

We appreciate that many leaders in intercollegiate athletics are faced with difficult choices during the current unprecedented pandemic. However, budget cuts should never be a reason for discrimination and certainly, decisions made based on budgets and organizational priorities should never be blamed on Title IX.  

We would be pleased to provide general guidance (albeit not legal assistance) if you are considering dropping sports. We have extensive Title IX knowledge and experience and would gladly share our insights. Below, we’ve outlined the general requirements of Title IX, which we wish to ensure you are aware. 

Schools must provide equitable: 

  1. Participation opportunities. Schools must meet one of the following three prongs.
    I. Proportionality
    II. History and continuing practice of expanding opportunities
    III. Fully and effectively accommodating the interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex 
  2. Benefits and TreatmentThe treatment that female and male athletes receive does not have to be identical, but it must have the same overall effect. 
  3. Athletic Scholarships. Should be awarded in proportion to the number of students of each sex participating in athletics 

 Once a sport with demonstrated student interest is dropped, you cannot use Prongs 2 or 3 to meet Title IX requirements and you must meet Prong 1, proportionality. Equally important is that Title IX compliance requires that women athletes have quality experiences not just a roster presence.  

While we recognize the financial hardship many institutions are facing, this is not an acceptable reason for discrimination. 

We are hopeful that if you are facing financial hardship and are considering dropping sports that with sufficient effort you will be able to create space for all female athletes’ interests and abilities in a Title IX compliant manner and that women athletewill have quality experiences, not just a roster presence.   

Equal opportunity and quality of athletic teams for all athletes at your institution is not only a legal requirement, but it may also be a source of great pride and positive public relations for your institution.   

We wish you well in this very important process and stand ready to assist. Of course, neither this letter nor our assistance, constitute legal advice.   


Dr. Deborah Antoine 

Chief Executive Officer, Women’s Sports Foundation 

To view this document in PDF form, please click here.


WSF and Athlete Ally Release Joint Statement on CAS Ruling


New York (May 1, 2019) — Today, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) upheld the 2018 IAAF regulation that requires  some female runners with naturally high testosterone—including Olympic and World Champion Caster Semenya—to only be eligible to compete against other women if they agree to medically alter their bodies. This ruling applies to female athletes racing in track events from 400 meters up to the mile, and will be followed by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).

“Forcing athletes to undergo medically unnecessary interventions in order to participate in the sport they dedicate their lives to is cruel, and a violation of their human rights,” said Hudson Taylor, Executive Director of Athlete Ally. “This fight is not over. We continue to stand in solidarity with Caster Semenya and all athletes affected by this discriminatory ruling.”

Previously, the IAAF ruled some female runners with naturally high testosterone levels will have to race against men or change events, unless they take medication to suppress their natural hormone levels. CAS found that prior similar IAAF regulations were discriminatory and ruled in 2015 that they could not be justified given the available scientific evidence.The IAAF ruling was met by global outrage by athletes including Semenya, and by an open letter to the IAAF by Athlete Ally and the Women’s Sports Foundation signed by over 60 athletes from around the world including Billie Jean King, Abby Wambach and Megan Rapinoe. We called out the regulation as discriminatory, harmful and based upon flawed data which misrepresents testosterone’s effect on athletic performance and we continue to voice our grave concern that discrimination such as this undermines the spirit of sport, and violates the 4th fundamental principle of the Olympic Charter, to which the IAAF adheres:

“The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”

“Today’s CAS ruling is deeply disappointing, discriminatory and contradictory to their 2015 ruling,” said Deborah Antoine, CEO of the Women’s Sports Foundation. “We will continue to speak out and demand change to this discriminatory policy.”

This CAS ruling, which allows the IAAF regulation to stand, is a tremendous step backwards for inclusion in sports. However, Athlete Ally and the Women’s Sports Foundation remain committed to fighting for athletes like Caster to be able to compete exactly as they are. We will not rest until all track athletes are able to run without the burden of discrimination.

Dear Congress: NCAA Diversity Pledge

In August of 2016, the NCAA Board of Governors called on Presidents of NCAA member institutions to sign the “Pledge and Commitment to Promoting Diversity and Gender Equity in Intercollegiate Athletics.” To date, more than 800 institution Presidents have signed the pledge.

In 2017, six members of the United States Congress, led by Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR 1st District) asked NCAA President Emmert for an update on this pledge. The enclosed letter is the Women’s Sports Foundation’s response to Congress’ inquiry of the progress of the NCAA pledge.

Questions? Please contact Sarah Axelson, Director of Advocacy.


December 21, 2017
U.S. Representative Suzanne Bonamici
439 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Via Email and US Mail

To the Honorable U.S. Representative Suzanne Bonamici,

I am writing to applaud your and your colleagues’ interest in and attention to the hiring practices in college athletics. Writing NCAA President Emmert has brought national attention to this critical issue, which is fundamental to creating diverse leadership not only in educational institutions, but in corporations and organizations across America.

The Women’s Sports Foundation, founded 43 years ago by Billie Jean King is dedicated to advancing leadership through sports to promote diversity and inclusion at all levels for all. We, too, wrote President Emmert acknowledging his leadership in this effort. We also urged the NCAA leadership to include women when speaking of minorities as we believe addressing inclusion and diversity issues is best achieved when all minorities are explicitly included rather than policies address minority groups separately.

We know that the NCAA has no jurisdiction or authority in making hiring, disciplining and firing decisions at individual university athletic departments. However, according to the NCAA Division I Manual, they are committed to diversity, inclusion and equity.

  • Membership believes in and is committed to the core values of diversity, inclusion and equity, because realization of those values improves the learning environment for all student-athletes and enhances excellence within the membership and in all aspects of intercollegiate athletics. The membership shall create diverse and inclusive environments, promote an atmosphere of respect for and sensitivity to the dignity of every person, and include diverse perspectives in the pursuit of academic and athletic excellence. Member institutions, with assistance from the national office, are expected to develop inclusive practices that foster positive learning and competitive environments for student-athletes, as well as professional development and opportunities for athletics administrators, coaches and staff from diverse backgrounds. 

While the Presidential Pledge is well-intentioned to address diversity leadership issues, we fear significant progress will be slow or insignificant without accountability. As outlined above in the Division I Manual, we implore those who are directly and indirectly accountable for hiring decisions to develop accountability measures that will ensure progress in real time. There have been several policy recommendations put forth we hope you will support. As most know, the Rooney rule was created to increase head coaching minority hires in professional football. The proposed Eddie Robinson rule and the Judy Sweet rule would initiate opportunity for diverse pools of candidates for every opening for men’s and women’s head-coaching positions and all senior administrative positions.

There is significant research confirming that better business decisions are made by diverse groups of leaders, and athletics is no exception. We have a diverse population of male and female student-athletes, and they should see leaders who look like themselves and are role models. Almost every day we are seeing and reading how the lack of minority and inclusive leadership is holding our country back from being the great nation we want to be. Sports can play an integral role in our nation’s success.

However, Dr. Richard Lapchick’s latest report from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport gave the NCAA’s FBS member schools a D+ for racial hiring and F for gender hiring in its annual report card, citing a lack of improvement. We must do better. The WSF and the coalition of organizations with whom we work are committed to supporting your efforts and helping in every way we can.

I look forward to hearing about next steps and lending our support.


Deborah Slaner Larkin
Chief Advocacy Officer


U.S. Representative Cedric Richmond
U.S. Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton
U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer
U.S. Representative Frederica Wilson
U.S. Representative Maxine Waters
Dr. Richard Lapchick