A college student lost her track scholarship after becoming pregnant. According to the school's policy, scholarship eligibility is lost if you have a child. Yet, male students who father children while holding scholarships are treated differently. Should the male students be held to the same standard?
The article slightly touches on the dilemma of abortion. The student is forced to make a decision between the scholarship that s/he earned or the life of the unborn child. What do you think?
Becoming a mother a dilemma and victory
Memphis Commercial Appeal
She took the test on an October day during her sophomore year, in her boyfriend's apartment, confused and terrified and unwilling to believe.
The first strip turned blue. She was pregnant.
"There must be something wrong with the strip," she said.
She took the test again. The strip turned blue again.
"I immediately thought about my scholarship," she said.
Cassandra Harding had a full scholarship to run track at the University of Memphis. She also had a full understanding of what would happen if she told the coaches she was expecting a child.
"I'd lose the scholarship," she said. "That was understood by everyone on the team. So then I had to choose, 'Do I keep the baby or do I keep my scholarship?'"
Why would we want anyone to have to make that choice?
Keep the baby and lose your scholarship.
Lose the baby and keep your scholarship.
"It's crazy," said Donna Lopiano, CEO of the Women's Sports Foundation. "I don't think it's right or legal."
But according to Harding -- who will tell her story to the country this morning on a Mother's Day edition of ESPN's "Outside the Lines" -- that's exactly the choice she was left with under a policy implemented by the Memphis track team.
"We had to sign a contract," Harding said. "It said that we'd lose our scholarship if we fought, or if we got in a verbal conflict with a coach, or if we got pregnant. I didn't think twice about it. I said, 'That's not going to be me.'"
Harding, from Killeen, Texas, was determined to get her college degree. For as long as she could recall, she had been told she could go to college if she could earn a scholarship.
"That's why I got A's and B's in high school," she said. "Nothing was going to stop me."
And then, the home pregnancy test strip turned blue. And so did the second one. A trip to the doctor confirmed everything.
"My boyfriend wanted me to keep the baby the whole time," she said. "But I wasn't going to lose my scholarship. I kept going back and forth, putting it off. When I finally went for the abortion they told me it was too late, that I'd have to go to a place in Little Rock. When that happened, I said, 'You know, I guess this isn't the thing I'm supposed to do. I'm going to keep the baby.'"
Even then, Harding didn't tell her coaches until she was six months pregnant. She competed in her specialty, the triple jump, throughout the indoor season.
"I finally told coach (Kevin) Robinson," she said. "He was my jumping coach at the time. They let me stay through the end of the semester, then they took the scholarship away."
Harding went home to Texas and delivered the baby in July. That fall, she returned for her junior season and walked on to the team, but did not compete.
"For me, being from out of state, it was expensive," she said. "If my brother hadn't signed a $10,000 loan for me, I wouldn't have been able to do it."
After a year, Harding's scholarship was restored. Saturday, in Houston, she participated in the Conference USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
"How do I feel about wearing Memphis colors?" she said. "I don't hold a grudge on my shoulders. But, no, I don't think I should have lost my scholarship because I got pregnant."
Legally, she might be wrong about this. Athletes lose their scholarships all the time for medical reasons unrelated to athletics.
"But if she lost her scholarship solely as a result of being pregnant, it would be a violation of Title 9," said Jocelyn Benson, who teaches a class on Sports and Inequality at Wayne State Law School. "There have been cases on that exact point."
Lopiano, of the Women's Sports Foundation, said "our position paper on pregnancy has to do with possible restrictions on playing. It never even occurred to us to include any retribution, i.e., the withdrawal of a scholarship."
Memphis officials weren't saying much about the case. Athletic director R.C. Johnson said, "We don't think we did anything wrong." Beyond that, Johnson referred to a prepared statement that said "The University of Memphis does not believe it is in violation of any federal law."
Unfortunately, neither Johnson nor anybody else at Memphis was willing to expand on the university's position. Maybe the school has a different version of the facts. Let's hope that's the case.
Otherwise, why were Darius Washington and DeAngelo Williams able to keep their scholarships after having children while a woman athlete could not? Isn't that the essence of discrimination?
And how about the practical effect of the policy? Why would a university support a policy that even inadvertently encourages female athletes who get pregnant to have abortions? Whatever your personal position on abortion, can't we all agree that the decision as to whether to terminate a pregnancy is difficult enough without being complicated by the potential loss of a scholarship?
Asked about this, Johnson said, "That's far-fetched. That's taking it a bit too far."
But is it? Really? Student-athletes sacrifice their entire lives to earn scholarships. Think they wouldn't consider other sacrifices?
"I know a couple people on the team who had abortions for that reason," Harding said. "They're not on the team now, but since I've been there. This isn't an uncommon thing. This is something women athletes are faced with that men aren't faced with."
Somehow, it all ended happily for Harding. She had her baby. She named her Assiah. She's left her back in Texas, under the care of her mother, until she finishes up her degree in December.
So the hard times are days like these, a Mother's Day, as she flies back to her life and work in Memphis, her baby girl far away.
"She's awesome," Harding said. "She's sooooo awesome. I can't believe I almost didn't have her."