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Julie Foudy: ‘I’m certain our first female president will have played sports.’

The gold-medal-winning soccer player talks about her recent book and empowering women in sports.

Julie Foudy at the 2017 LA84 Summit. Photo courtesy of LA84 Foundation.

Julie Foudy proudly embraces her nickname “Loudy Foudy.”

The outspoken two-time Olympic soccer gold medalist and ESPN analyst has been a vocal advocate for women’s rights and equity in the field of play since her days as a standout athlete in college and at the Olympic and professional level.

Now she is speaking out again, this time in her recent book, “?Choose to Matter: Being Courageously and Fabulously You,” published by ESPNW. The book features interviews with 10 female athletes and trailblazers about their journeys, including soccer superstars Mia Hamm and Alex Morgan and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg. Foudy also discusses leadership, empowerment, and the importance of Title IX legislation, passed in 1972, which designates that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

“It’s one of the biggest civil rights issues of our time,” Foudy says. “The data shows that most female CEOs and managers participated in sports, which means those who don’t get the opportunity are limited in their opportunities later in life. I’m certain our first female president will have played sports.”

A national team member by the age of 17, she said she earned five scholarship offers for college before ending up at Stanford, thanks to Title IX. Today, national team members in soccer might earn closer to 300 offers, thanks to advocacy for the generations that followed.

Still, as Foudy points out, there’s still more work to be done. With each new presidential administration, Title IX is subject to becoming undermined — as we’ve seen in the Trump era — because its policies are open to interpretation and enforcement by the Office of Civil Rights and U.S. Department of Education.

Julie Foudy and LA84 president Renata Simril. Photo courtesy of LA84 Foundation.

It’s more likely to happen when a Republican is in office, Foudy says, as was the case when President George W. Bush was in office in 2003. She was part of a federal commission that Bush convened to “examine” Title IX but refused to sign off on the report proposing changes.

Her voice didn’t go unnoticed. With the support of fellow Olympic gold medalist Donna de Varona, Billie Jean King’s Women’s Sports Foundation, and a growing interest from the public, Bush and the Department of Education reaffirmed Title IX’s policies and threw out the report.

Foudy recently received the NCAA 2018 Silver Anniversary Award, which recognizes distinguished individuals on the 25th anniversary of the conclusion of their college athletics careers. Representatives of NCAA member schools and conferences, along with a panel of former student-athletes, select each year’s recipients.

The narrative around what Title IX is and does for all athletes needs to be shifted, Foudy says, “When I first heard of it, it was in the context of how we were taking money away from one of the men’s sports. In reality, schools have discretion over how to allocate funds. Title IX just says you cannot discriminate based on gender. It’s the same as how a private employer would not be told how to allocate funds in hiring.”

There’s also another important reason to advocate for Title IX in the age of the growing #MeToo movement, the landmark Larry Nassar case at Michigan State University, and increased awareness of sexual abuse on college campuses. Foudy explained that Title IX provides important protections for women in filing complaints about such issues because sexual harassment interferes with equal access to educational opportunities. Indeed, in the case of Nassar, a student-athlete did file a Title IX complaint, but it was reportedly ignored by the president of the university.

But while Foudy’s wholly focused on empowering women and girls through sports, she also wants to shift the conversation of sports to joy — not pressure — for all athletes, particularly for youth.

“Parents have the best of intentions, but there’s no need to specialize at such a young age and play year-round,” she says. “It’s what leads to burnout. Being around my teammates, overcoming adversity — that’s what brought me joy in competing at any level in soccer.”

She’s taken that joy and paid it forward through a number of causes she supports. She founded the Julie Foudy Sports Leadership Academy, which focuses on developing young women using sports as a vehicle, and the Julie Foudy Leadership Foundation, which works to empower young women from all socioeconomic backgrounds to become leaders who positively impact their communities.

Foudy also recently emceed the 2017 summit for the LA84 Foundation, which is committed to leveling the playing field in youth sports, a major part of which includes closing the gender gap.

“It’s about not just giving the kid a chance to kick a soccer ball, shoot a basketball, or play tennis,” Foudy said, “but teaching them about life and community and the importance of character — and the gift that is sports.”

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