Pregnant Athlete Doesn't Want To Be Babied By School

A Texas high schooler is filing a Title IX complaint against her school district after her volleyball coach benched her in her first trimester. This sounds like a no-win situation for everyone involved.

Mackenzie McCollum, a 17-year-old senior at Arlington Heights HS, was looking forward to the start of the volleyball season — prime college scouting season, and McCollum had her eye on landing a scholarship. Then she went and got pregnant.

Coach Jack Warren told her she couldn't play, because it's obvious a pregnant woman shouldn't be playing sports, right? Turns out it's not necessarily so obvious.

McCollum went to an OB-GYN, who gave her medical clearance to play. She was back on the court, four months pregnant, in time for district playoffs. But she still retained a lawyer and filed a Title IX complaint against the Fort Worth school district.

Local popular opinion seems firmly against McCollum:

It's gone out of control," said Brooke Halsey, a team captain. "She's still my friend, and I don't want to bash her at all. I just want Coach Warren to be represented. He's a good guy, a great person, and he's been an awesome coach."

"Everybody who knows Coach Warren knows he was looking out for her best interest," said Gordy Halsey, Brooke's father. "Good people have been hurt in this."

The coach's supporters have set up a Facebook page titled, "I support Coach Warren and the FWISD." It had nearly 500 supporters Monday night.

No one doubts that Warren was looking out for her health, but it sounds like the school didn't do its homework. There seems to be a dearth of solid information on pregnant athletes, and even McCollum's OB-GYN relied on the discounted popular wisdom that a pregnant woman's heartrate shouldn't rise beyond 140 bpm.

At the same time, pregnant women are advised to keep their body temperatures under 103 degrees, so there's no easy answer. Either way, the school didn't consult a doctor before deciding to bench McCollum.

How about more obvious health concerns? Volleyball is an intensely physical sport. McCollum said she changed her playing style to avoid diving for balls and landing on her stomach; but how effective a player could she be without diving? The case could be made that the benching was performance-related, and not any kind of discrimination.

Then, there's the case being made that it's not health related at all.

It's extremely sexist. It's ugly," said the student's lawyer, Lara S. Kaufmann with the National Women's Law Center in Washington. "They're really attacking her for being pregnant in the first place and choosing to continue playing volleyball."

It's tough to weigh the moral judgments at work. Maybe, as one classmate says, Texas just isn't particularly keen on a pregnant 17-year-old. And maybe, as another opines, McCollum is keeping the child because she's an observant Catholic. These factors are irrelevant to Title IX.

But Title IX is supposed to cover sex-based discrimination, and is that really the case here? The coach didn't bench her because she's a girl, but because of something that can only happen to girls. I can't recall one case of Title IX applying to discrimination against one student when compared to her teammates. I suppose that's for the courts to decide.

Pregnant Athletes Don't Have To Sit Out [ESPN.com]
Pregnant Volleyball Player Serves Complaint to FWISD [NBC DFW]
Fort Worth Teen Files Civil Rights Complaint, Says Volleyball Coach Benched Her Over Pregnancy [Dallas Morning News]