US Olympic rower Patricia Spratlen Etem calls Biden administration's proposed Title IX changes ‘awful threat'

Two-time Olympic rower Patricia Spratlen Etem spoke to Fox News Digital about the ongoing debate surrounding transgender athletes in women’s sports and the proposed changes to Title IX.

US Olympic rower Patricia Spratlen Etem calls Biden administration's proposed Title IX changes ‘awful threat'

Patricia Spratlen Etem, a former member of the U.S. Olympic Rowing team in 1980 and 1984, was not an athlete growing up. In fact, it was not until she attended the University of California, Berkeley in the mid-1970s, fresh off the implementation of Title IX, that her journey began.

Spratlen Etem, 66, spoke to Fox News Digital recently about her continued work in women’s sports, specifically surrounding the ongoing debate regarding the involvement of transgender athletes in women’s sports.

Spratlen Etem is just one of two African American women to ever make the U.S women’s Olympic rowing team, but in her first chance at gold, the United States announced it was boycotting the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. 


Spratlen Etem, who now serves as a Rowing Advisory Committee member for the Independent Council on Women’s Sports, likened that moment of being stripped of her "gold medal opportunity" to the "same denial" that she says young girls and women face in sports today because of transgender athlete participation. 

"I worked tremendously hard, as did athletes all around the world, and [it was] completely out of our control. There was a boycott mandated by our government. We were not government employees. We were not in the military. And yet we were denied our opportunity. And for me, that was my gold medal opportunity. It truly was."

She continued, "So I think of these women, and it's the same denial. You don't have control. It's being levied on you and out of your control. So this is happening to young girls and it's just heartbreaking. It's really heartbreaking." 

Spratlen Etem’s comments follow those of Becky Sauerbrunn, a U.S. women’s soccer star who has won two FIFA World Cups and a gold medal in the 2012 Olympics, who wrote an op-ed earlier this month taking aim at Missouri lawmakers over a bill that would bar transgender girls from playing sports with biological females.

"I can assure you that playing with or against transgender women and girls is not a threat to women’s sports," Sauerbrunn wrote in her piece published in the Springfield News-Leader in Missouri. 

However, Spratlen Etem disagreed.


"It's very much a threat. It's an existential threat. And it's a threat on many levels." 

Spratlen Etem named several examples including safety, specifically in contact sports, but argued that the biggest threat is to Title IX. 

She specifically pointed to the Biden administration’s proposed changes to Title IX that will change the language of the law to include gender identity into its protections as opposed to solely sex-based. 

"That's dangerous for women. That completely puts Title IX on its head. It undoes Title IX for women. It does that for recruitment, where now you have to say – they can practice affirmative action in recruiting to bring levels, now not based on sex, based on gender."

The Biden administration proposed new regulations on the 50th anniversary of Title IX, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in federally funded schools, to expand the protections to include sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Spratlen Etem argued that the implications of the new changes will have a long-lasting effect on biological females, not just in athletics, but also in education. 

"It is a definite, awful threat for women because then this impedes educational opportunity. And people who say, no, it really doesn't. Yes, it really does," she said, adding that there are more women on campuses now than before the implementation of Title IX. 

"The very fact is that Title IX is a complete and important driver to higher education for women, when that gets changed to gender – It's just inarguable to say it's not a threat."

"It's prejudicial to women to have to compete against biological men," she continued. "So in the implementation for U.S. colleges and universities, that's going to be Title IX. And if Title IX language says everything will be superseded to gender, then women essentially don't count. That's really what they're saying. And that is the opposite – the antithesis of what Title IX’s objective originally was."

The Biden administration will release another round of regulations in the spring that will specifically address Title IX's application to transgender athletes participating in women's sports – an idea furiously debated by current and former athletes on both sides.

However, for Spratlen Etem, the "discrimination component" of these changes is something she believes is something no one can deny – especially those who have benefited from Title IX.

"I don't understand how women or men aren't seeing the discrimination component of this and how it's negatively affecting and will affect girls," she told Fox News Digital. "Women have paved the way for these young women. Completely. They themselves have benefited from the original Title IX. That's been in their lifetime." 

Spratlen Etem said the idea is not to isolate anyone from athletics, but to "create a category so that it is competitively fair."