PHOENIX, AZ – Protesting the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) policy that allows male athletes on women’s teams, female athletes, coaches, and parents joined Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) and a coalition of women’s advocacy groups across the political spectrum on Thursday, January 11, for the “Our Bodies, Our Sports: We Won’t Back Down” rally and protest outside of the 2024 NCAA Convention in Phoenix, Arizona. 

The message spread during the events and throughout the city displayed on billboards, mobile billboard trucks, and on hats, tshirts, and signs was women “won’t back down,” the NCAA must “stop discriminating” against women, and “women’s sports are for women.” 

PHOTOS: “We Won’t Back Down” Rally & Protest

**For reporting purposes, please credit Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) with the photo content.**

Featured speakers included IWF Ambassadors Riley Gaines, Paula Scanlan, Coach Kim Russell, Madisan DeBos, among other NCAA athletes and Olympians. 

Following the rally, IWF organized a march from City Hall where the rally took place to the front doors of the NCAA Convention at the Phoenix Convention Center to hand deliver a demand letter and a petition with over 70,000 signatures to the NCAA. The letter was signed by a coalition of women’s advocacy organizations including IWF, Independent Council on Women’s Sports, Champion Women, Women’s Sports Policy Working Group, Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF), Independent Women’s Law Center, Women’s Declaration International (WDI-USA), Concerned Women for America, International Consortium on Female Sports (ICFS), Young Women for America, and Independent Women’s Network. 

The letter demands that the NCAA do three things:

  • Repeal all policies and rules that allow male athletes to take roster spots on women’s teams and/or compete in women’s events, and
  • Establish and enforce the right of female athletes to participate in sports based on sex, and
  • Require its member institutions to provide single-sex locker rooms for female athletes.

Independent Women’s Forum coordinated with NCAA officials on the meetup outside the main entrance of the convention center, where Mike King, NCAA Managing Director of Purchasing and Operations, and Crystal Reimer, NCAA Operations Director, received the documents.

 “We wish President Baker was out here,” said IWF’s Riley Gaines as she handed the letter and binder of petition signatures over to King and Reimer. “Our voices are not being heard. We want to be let into the conversation to discuss how to uphold fairness and protect women’s right to privacy and safety. We are still seeing the NCAA continue to discriminate on the basis of our sex. It’s happening in just about every sport, level, division, and state.” 

“Anyway we can be useful to the conversation to provide insight, to share our concerns and the real effects and real impacts, we are here and we are ready and willing to be invited to the table. We have come too far to be erased,” Gaines added.

In an email, a NCAA senior official told IWF that “The NCAA is proud to invest in, support and advance women’s sports and has recently made significant progress towards these goals.” And shared a summary from Felicia Martin, NCAA Senior Vice President for Inclusion, Education and Community Engagement, that included basketball bracket expansion, negotiations for a new $920 million ESPN media rights contract to give exposure to women’s sports, and the expansion of sports for women’s wrestling, flag football, and pickleball. 

Martin’s summary concluded, “The NCAA will continue to work with a wide range of stakeholders on promoting fairness and equity for college athletes because every competitor deserves the opportunity to participate in college sports.”

“The NCAA says they are interested in talking with all stakeholders. And yet NCAA leadership has yet to talk to a single female athlete who has suffered as a result of its discriminatory policies,” said Victoria Coley, vice president of communications for Independent Women’s Forum and lead organizer for the Our Bodies Our Sports coalition activities in Phoenix. “We know that without single sex competition there will never be equity. And we won’t back down.”

“This issue is not going away, and it will take strong leadership from the top to right the ship. As a father of a female student athlete and someone with a reputation for listening to people on all sides of an issue, President Baker should welcome a meeting with members of our Our Bodies, Our Sports coalition. Until then, their claims of advancing equity ring hollow,” Gaines added. 

Gaines wrote President Baker a letter shortly after he assumed the position of NCAA president. Fellow IWF Ambassadors Paula Scanlan, former teammate of Lia Thomas at University of Pennsylvania who was forced to undress in the locker room with Thomas up to 18 times per week despite the school knowing about Scanlan’s past sexual assault attack, and Kim Russell, former collegiate head women’s lacrosse coach stripped of her coaching position after advocating to keep women’s sports for women, also wrote letters (Scanlan letter, Russell letter). Letters were sent certified mail and by email. All three letters to President Baker have gone unanswered.


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