U.S. Olympian, Billie Jean King, sports figures speak out on Roe v. Wade being overturned

·8 min read

Corrections and clarifications: A previous version of this story misidentified the OL Reign.

One day after the 50th anniversary of Title IX – legislation passed to create and enforce equal opportunities in sports for women – the Supreme Court ruled Friday that Americans no longer have a constitutional right to abortion.

Tennis legend Billie Jean King, an icon in the sports gender equity movement and women's rights activist, called it "a sad day in the (United States)."

"The Supreme Court has struck down Roe v. Wade, which for nearly 50 years has protected the right to abortion," King said. "This decision will not end abortion. What it will end is safe and legal access to this vital medical procedure. It is a sad day in the U.S."

Olympian Ashleigh Johnson was in Budapest, Hungary, celebrating the U.S. women's water polo team's 23-3 victory over Argentina at the FINA World Aquatics Championships when the players heard the news of the Supreme Court ruling.

“We came out of our game excited to have won but then just completely deflated to think about the implications of Roe v. Wade not existing,’’ Johnson, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, told USA TODAY Sports during a phone interview.

“Speaking as a woman, it feels like a major step backward for equal representation of women in society in general. But speaking as an athlete, it’s coming off the back of the 50th anniversary of Title IX, so obviously Title IX and the benefits to women wouldn’t have been possible without Roe v. Wade.’’

U.S. goalkeeper Ashleigh Johnson in action against Japan during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games.
U.S. goalkeeper Ashleigh Johnson in action against Japan during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games.

U.S. women's soccer captain Megan Rapinoe, always outspoken on social issues, said abortion is not about politics, it's an issue of human rights.

"It’s hard to put into words how sad a day this is for me personally, for my teammates, just all of the people out there who this is going to affect," she said.

Her teammate Lindsey Horan said: "I don’t like speaking about this very often but waking up and hearing that news was not great to say the least. I’m still a little bit shocked and trying to take it all in. I do feel like this is a step backwards for our country."

WNBA Players' Association: Get out and vote

The WNBA Players' Association also released a strong response to the news:

"This decision shows a branch of government that is so out of touch with the country and any sense of human dignity. This is why we say voting rights are critically important and must be protected. We must recognize that when we cast a ballot it is to elect officials and to connect the dots to policies and legislation that align with our values."

The union was also critical of the Supreme Court's ruling Thursday that made it easier for gun owners to publicly carry weapons in states such as New York, New Jersey and California.

"Are we in a democracy where guns have more rights than women?" the union asked in its statement.

"This ruling provides a treacherous pathway to abortion bans that reinforce economic, social and political inequalities and could lead to higher rates of maternal mortality while eviscerating rights to reproductive freedom for everyone

"To protect our democracy, we must vote like our lives depend on it. Because they do."

NBA commissioner Adam Silver and WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert issued a joint statement saying the leagues believe "women should be able to make their own decisions concerning their health and future, and we believe that freedom must be protected."

NWSL teams vow to fight for equality

Teams in the National Women's Soccer League also spoke up on social media. Racing Louisville FC noted that the average Kentucky resident will be forced to drive 245 miles for an abortion. "This development leaves us especially concerned about marginalized members of our community and future Supreme Court decisions that could impact them."

The OL Reign said, "We are heartbroken by this decision ... by overturning the basic human right to bodily autonomy, our most vulnerable communities are most impacted. This directly opposes our values at OL Reign and we are committed to fighting for equality."

The Orlando Pride of the NWSL and Orlando City SC of Major League Soccer also issued joint statement, saying, "Access to safe reproductive healthcare and having autonomy over one's body are basic, nonnegotiable human rights, and our club deeply objects to today's Supreme Court decision."

"The Supreme Court’s ruling today denies individuals in this country the full liberty and equality that is the cornerstone of a just society," NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman said in a statement. "Reproductive rights are human rights. Until every individual has the same freedoms as their neighbor, our work is not done. We will continue to make our voices heard. The NWSL is more than just a soccer league; we are a collective who will stand up every day for what is right."

The NWSL Players Association said it "strongly condemns today's decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade — a decision that effectively takes away a person's right to make decisions about their own body, a basic human right at the core of every aspect of life. This 'pro-life' decision will result in the deaths of an untold number of women, particularly in marginalized communities."

Male athletes also criticized the decision, incuding three from the auto racing world.

IndyCar driver Dalton Kellett, who hails from Canada, tweeted that he is pro-choice and "the hypocrisy of the situation, as a man" bothered him.

"If the roles were reversed, it wouldn’t even be up for discussion," Kellett wrote on Twitter. "We would never give up control of our bodies. Women shouldn’t have to give up control of theirs."

Another IndyCar driver, JR Hildebrand, also criticized today's decision, tweeting:

"My wife is a women’s health nurse. There are a lot of reasons to terminate a pregnancy. And in a country w no guaranteed access to contraception, healthcare, paid leave, or parental support, it’s utterly ridiculous to *also* make terminating a pregnancy impossible or unsafe."

And seven-time Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton, who from Great Britain, weighed in on his Instagram story:

"Disgusted by the decision made by the Supreme Court in the US today. I don't understand why some in power pushed and continue to push to strip rights away from millions of people. This decision will impact the most vulnerable among us. Women, people of colour, members of the LGBTQIA+ community and so on.

NBA guard Josh Hart apologized to women, saying "To the women in this country….I’m Sorry." Minnesota Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns quote-tweeted former President Barack Obama's statement, writing "Sad Day."

ESPN analyst Ryan Clark, a former NFL defensive back, wrote: "To all of the women who are hurting today I see you. I’m so sorry that the country moved backwards today. Praying with you all!"

A defensive lineman for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cam Heyward, commented on the country "going backwards."

"It’s a shame we are going backwards," he wrote on Twitter. "To take away a woman’s choice and think progress was made is BS. It’s a tough decision but it’s their decision. Leave it that."

Potential consequences for female college athletes

Johnson, the Olympic water polo goalkeeper who played collegiately at Princeton, was one of 500 female athletes who signed on to an amicus brief last September urging the Supreme Court to reject the Mississippi law at the center of Friday's Supreme Court ruling.

Johnson is concerned about female college athletes attending schools in states where the Supreme Court’s ruling leads to abortion being outlawed. In part, she is concerned after reading that fewer than 10 percent of colleges have the infrastructure to support college athletes who are raising children.

“That’s crazy,’’ Johnson said. “With this ruling, if college athletes who decide to keep their baby don’t have the choice whether or not they can keep this child, they have to choose between being a student-athlete parent and being a parent. It’s sacrificing your education, it’s sacrificing your athletic career. It’s creating this dilemma where you choose between getting an education and unlocking all these different opportunities for the rest of your life.’’

OPINION: Athletes may think twice where they go to school if Roe v. Wade is overturned

Johnson also reflected on a personal message and what she shares with young girls playing sports.

“I talk about how sport gives you so much power over your body,’’ she said. “It gives you so much freedom. And like young girls growing up with body issues, there’s a challenging relationship with your body, but the one thing that you know is guaranteed is that your body is yours ...  and through sport you learn that it’s something really powerful.

“To have our government take that piece of us away, it’s just a huge step backward, it feels like.’’

Contributing: Christine Brennan, Lindsay Schnell, Josh Peter

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Roe v. Wade overturned: Billie Jean King, other sports figures react

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