In the summer of 2007, an episode of ESPN’s “Outside The Lines” sparked discussions around the country about issues involving pregnant student-athletes. The issue is often overlooked or brushed aside on college campuses, and Belmont athletic director Mike Strickland said he had not considered a policy before Belmont’s first encounter with the situation in his 12-year tenure.
“Maybe we should have, but we hadn’t really thought about one because we hadn’t had to deal with the situation,” Strickland said last week.
In the case of Shaunda Strayhorn, who missed the 2008-09 season and gave birth to a daughter in January 2009, Strickland said he and others within the athletic department made sure her scholarship was intact.
Strayhorn remained a student at Belmont in fall 2008 even though she did not play basketball. She stayed out of school for the spring semester, and she returned to both the classroom and the basketball court in the fall.
Strickland said the athletic department wanted to be sure Strayhorn’s health issues were taken care of; basketball needed to take a back seat.
“We’re going to work with you academically and health-wise and then as soon as you’re able to come back, we’re going to put you back in as a basketball player,” Strickland said.
In the fall of 2008 after she told the coaches she was pregnant, Strayhorn said her card for the locker room was deactivated, she was asked to sit across from the team at games, and she was not included in the media guide or the team picture.
“It felt like they kind of shunned me because they closed the locker room to me,” Strayhorn said. “They didn’t really want me too much around, and I didn’t understand.”
The NCAA provides schools with a model pregnancy policy that is in accordance with Title IX, the federal gender equity law passed in 1972. Title IX states: “A recipient shall treat pregnancy in the same manner and under the same policies as any other temporary disability.”
Strickland said he believes Belmont followed that protocol with both Strayhorn and Tereva Moore. Moore began her junior season last fall; she is now pregnant so she is off the court but still in school this spring.
The NCAA policy, Strickland said, ”is kind of an open-ended statement like a lot of NCAA open-ended statements. I would say to you that’s what we did, really. We didn’t treat anybody any different than we would any other injury.”
Strayhorn said she was frustrated at the time, but saw it all as part of the maturing process.
“I had to grow up. I didn’t think it was fair but I had to move on,” Strayhorn said.
Another issue is the absence of a pregnancy policy in the Belmont student-athlete handbook – something Strickland said needs to change.
Belmont, however, is not exceptional in this. According to a 2009 report by the College Sport Research Institute, only 50 of 327 NCAA Division I universities had an active pregnancy policy that was accessible to student-athletes.
“I think that’s something we probably should have in our handbook and we’ll address that as we produce the next one,” Strickland said. “Again, we really just hadn’t thought about it before it happened.”
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