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Athletics + Agendas: Four Lawmakers Who Make Sports a Political Priority

Red and Blue. Right and Left. Conservative and Liberal. At any moment it can feel like the political discord in America is at an all-time high with so much up for debate during these complicated times. However, here at the Women’s Sports Foundation, there is one thing we think we can all agree on: girls and women in sports have an important place in the political agendas of our elected.

Here’s a look at four current Congresspeople who are doing their part to ensure Title IX and girls and women in sports remain a priority in the hearts and minds of our lawmakers and our voters.

Dianne Feinstein, D-CA:

A pioneering and prolific politician, Feinstein has maintained a career in major public office since her election in 1978 as the 38th Mayor of San Francisco. The Stanford University graduate won her first seat in the Senate in 1992 and has since been re-elected six times. Feinstein serves on numerous Senate subcommittees with noted political positions focused on national security, clean fuel, public health and citizen privacy concerns.

Senator Feinstein’s efforts to protect and promote girls and women in sports can be seen most recently in her championing of the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017. The “Safe Sport Act,” a key focus of the Foundation’s 2018 National Girls and Women in Sports Day (NGWSD) lobbying efforts, mandates certain protections for young athletes, especially in cases of sexual abuse accusations. Feinstein also sponsored our 2018 NGWSD briefing and panel discussion that focused on the impact of sexual harassment and assault on students and athletes, and highlighted the role of Title IX in expanding access and opportunity to sports programming.

Lisa Murkowski, R-AK:

The Senior Senator from America’s penultimate state has served her Alaskan people in the Senate since 2002. The daughter of former U.S. Senator and Governor of Alaska Frank Murkowski, she is an acclaimed outdoorswoman who takes advantage of all the adventure her state offers. Murkowski holds agenda priorities in infrastructure, veterans, national debt and the Second Amendment.

Is it that she hails from the same state as Ted Stevens, the father of the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act that established the United States Olympic Committee? Whatever the reason, Murkowski has proven herself as a leading supporter of critical legislation affecting girls and women in sports. In 2013, the Republican joined all Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Democrats in voting for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). A major across-the-aisle move, ESEA originally included the High School Data Bill, requiring high schools to publicly report data on how many girls and boys are playing sports and how much money schools are spending on their teams – a condition that would have significantly increased the ease with which Title IX is enforced in any U.S. school receiving federal funding. Unfortunately, in ESEA’s final passed version, The High School Data Bill was left out as a provision. Just last year, Murkowski and Senator Susan Collins were the only two Republicans who voted in the Senate against Donald Trump’s selection for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. DeVos, who was eventually voted into office, is a vocal detractor of Title IX and its many important implications.

Michael Bennet, D-CO:

The man who once curled in the halls of the Senate building to celebrate the PyeongChang Winter Olympics is not just all about fun and games. A Yale Law graduate, Sen. Bennet is a D.C. native who first took office in 2009. Bennet’s agenda is particularly focused on the needs of his constituency: energy policy, gun laws, health care, immigration, and of course, athletics.

In 2010, the Coloradoan teamed up with fellow Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) to form the Congressional Olympic and Paralympic Caucus. The group is dedicated to educating Congress about the goals and spirit of the Olympic Games, promoting clean and fair competition, expanding youth sports, and helping athletes realize their Olympic and Paralympic dreams. The caucus also highlights the benefits of Paralympic sports for individuals with disabilities, including injured military and veterans. In 2012, Bennet joined us to celebrate the 26th annual NGWSD, marking the importance of sports participation in the lives of girls and women. That year’s celebration also marked the 40th anniversary of Title IX. In a statement submitted for the official congressional record, the father of three daughters highlighted the role that athletics can play in young girls’ development and success.

Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY:

Supporting women and women’s sports comes naturally for the New York Democratic Senator. Gillibrand, who was first elected to office in 2009, played tennis growing up in New York state and ended her competitive sports career on the varsity squash team at Ivy-League Dartmouth College. In addition to agenda foci of combating insider trading and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and proposing legislation that would remove sexual assault cases from the military chain of command and co-authoring the Campus Accountability and Safety Act (CASA), Gillibrand has also been a vocal leader protecting and promoting women in sports.

A few of her greatest hits? In 2015 Gillibrand, working with fellow U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), submitted a letter to the Office on Civil Rights encouraging then-Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to continue his efforts to enforce Title IX. And in 2017, the Senator was among 16 politicians who signed a letter written to USA Hockey in support of the United States Women’s National Hockey Team. The letter encouraged the governing body to quickly resolve the team’s wage equity lawsuit…and it did. USA Hockey and the National Team reached an agreement, and the team went on to win the 2017 world championship and 2018 PyeongChang gold medal.

Now that you’ve got the details on some of those on Capitol Hill who’ve got our backs, did you know that girls who play sports as adolescents are more likely to run for office as women?

Learn more in another S.H.E. post here.