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Outside the Lines: Heather Sue Mercer suit
Unidentified male- Oo-ee (ph), Sarge (ph). Look at that. They're putting a bloody shooter (ph) on the team.
Unidentified male- We'll be the laughingstock of college football.
Ley- What Hollywood once treated as comedy in films such as "Necessary Roughness" is now serious business. This week, a federal jury determined this kicker was a victim of discrimination in her quest to play college football.
Today on OUTSIDE THE LINES, how the case of Heather Sue Mercer will affect college sports and her sister kickers.
Announcer- OUTSIDE THE LINES is presented by State Farm Insurance.
Joining us from ESPN Studios, Bob Ley.
Ley- When John McEnroe recently suggested that college-level male tennis players could beat Venus and Serena Williams, he not only awakened memories of the Bobbie Riggs-Billie Jean King spectacle, he also focused attention on the larger issue of women competing directly against men.
Many folks do recall that Menan Reyant (ph) played in goal for an NHL exhibition game, and that Aisla Borders (ph) pitched three seasons in the low minor leagues, and that Ann Meyers (ph) had a tryout with the Indiana Pacers. If some dismiss those women as novelties, then what about the more than 2,000 female high school wrestlers in the United States, girls who compete directly against boys?
And then there is the macho world of brute force and thunderous hitting, football. And even there, women are on the field against men, usually as kickers and not as novelties.
Heather Sue Mercer believed she was a proven kicker when she tried out for the Duke University football team as a walk-on. Her story began over six years ago. It ended only this week when a federal jury agreed with her that she had been a victim of discrimination because she was a woman.
While her multi-million-dollar damage award is a victory for her, it remains to be seen if that verdict will advance the cause of the women who would follow in her steps.
Ley (voice-over)- Not only did she win the spring scrimmage, but Heather Sue Mercer's field goal won her a spot as a freshman on the Duke roster. At least that's what her head coach said then.
Fred Goldsmith, former Duke football coach- She's made it. She's going to be on our football team.
Ley- But Thursday, more than five years after that kick and a draining three-year quest to be selected to the Duke squad, Mercer celebrated a precedent-setting legal victory.
Heather Sue Mercer, Attempted to walk on at Duke University- They found that Duke acted with deliberate indifference to the knowledge of discrimination. They found that I was discriminated against on the basis of my gender. And I waited several years to hear that. $2 million.
Ley- Mercer, who kicked for her New York State champion high school team, testified that Duke Head Coach Fred Goldsmith told her to try out for a beauty pageant, to sit in the stands with her boyfriend, even sabotaged her initial tryout for the team.
Goldsmith- Her leg strength is minimal, really not this level of football. She'll get a chance to really try out again in the spring if she'd like to. So she's going to help the kickers out and try to learn from them on the side. But she won't be a member of our football team this fall.
Ley- Duke, Mercer testified, feared a media circus and treated her, quote, "like a groupie." The school responded that she was an average high school kicker who received more chances than any male.
Tonya Butler, Middle George place kicker- I think in her situation, I wouldn't have sued.
Ley- Junior college kicker Tonya Butler hopes that later this fall she'll become the first woman to win a Division One football scholarship. The Middle Georgia kicker fears the verdict and huge damages could have a chilling effect on her career.
Butler- With my situation, I am coming up -- I'm at a two-year school, and I'm on full scholarship. And I'm at the position where some D1 schools are looking at me. But they're still kind of iffy, you know? Should we sign this girl? Is this going to be a problem? If she doesn't make it, is she going to sue us?
Those can be some issue questions that some coaches, it might come across their mind. And it may be a prejudice towards me.
Ley- While her experiences with coaches have all been positive, Butler does accept Mercer's account of her ordeal.
Butler- Oh, I'm sure. If I had so many comments like that, if I had to count them, I would have a list as long as Timbuktu. I mean, people are going to be negative. People are going to say things. But your perseverance gets through that. You've got to keep going and not let things bother you so and just keep going if that's what you believe in.
Ley- The first woman to ever kick at a college football game also heard the skeptics when she made history three years ago. Liz Heaston was playing soccer for Division Three Willamette University when she was recruited to also place kick.
Liz Heaston, former Willamette place kicker- I actually didn't hear any comments. But I know they were said on the line. I know there were comments made because the guys who were on the line, they basically said, "Try anything and you'll be hurt." That was the general overall gist of what they were saying.
They were very good at protecting me. I was not worried at all.
Ley- Heaston's football career lasted two games. And only recently has she begun to appreciate its importance beyond the sport.
Heaston- I felt like I was going out there and just doing my job, that I was out on the field to kick a P-A-T, to make the ball go through the uprights, not, oh, to be the first woman to play in a football game, in a college football game. So the novelty of it didn't really sink in until now.
A couple of years after it when I was published kind of I guess in a book, it's called "Gutsy Girls," I have my little story in there. And I had phone calls from Japan. And things like that kind of blew me away that everyone was making such a big deal out of it.
Ley- Attention now is on Mercer's $2 million verdict. She's pledged her full share to establish a scholarship fund for female kickers.
Tonya Butler, hoping to earn her own scholarship is not sold on the idea.
Butler- You have a girl that goes in there with a scholarship trying to do that, it may upset the coaches even more. It may tick them off and maybe not want to do it, maybe like make fun the situation and not -- it can be a good and it can be a bad situation.
I think that's great that she wants to use that money and do something and inspire other people. But I think it has its negative issues too.
Ley- Butler rebuffs several schools who she says recruited her as a publicity stunt or a shield against Title IX scrutiny. She says she simply wants to kick, a sentiment echoed by the woman who blazed a trail, the same year Heather Sue Mercer gave up on making the Duke team.
Mercer- I think there were people who would have liked to have made it out to be a feminist thing, or this is a political statement. But I really tried hard when I was in interviews and talking to people to really say that it had nothing to do with that.
It had to do with me being able to get out on the football field and kick. That's what it had to do with. It had nothing to do with, oh, I'm female, and I'm playing football.
Ley- But the gridiron gender gap was vividly illustrated in that Duke scrimmage Heather Sue Mercer won with her field goal. Earlier, a bad snap left her with a live football. The play led to this telling post-game exchange with her head coach.
Goldsmith- Have you ever heard of Garo Yepremian?
Goldsmith- Ask somebody about it. That happened to him in the Super Bowl.
Ley- Fred Goldsmith testified that he felt protective of Heather Sue Mercer, that she was too small to even allow to practice. He said, quote now, "As a father, as a man, with everything that I believe in, I would never put that young lady out there." Goldsmith is now out of coaching.
Heather Sue Mercer works in finance. And beyond her comments outside the courthouse, she has not spoken publicly about her victory at trial. Duke University is still considering whether to appeal the verdict.
And when we continue, I'll talk with an Olympic gold medalist who is also an attorney specializing in Title IX law with a kicking coach who testified on behalf of Heather Sue Mercer and a football coach whose school was the very first to play a woman in a college football game.
Ley- What does the Heather Sue Mercer verdict mean for women in college football? Joining us this morning from Jacksonville, Nancy Hogshead, a three-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer who is also an attorney concentrating in Title IX law. From Washington, DC, a high school head football coach who also specializes in coaching place kickers.
And from Salem, Oregon, Mark Speckman, a head coach at Willamette University. He was the offensive coordinator there three years ago when Liz Heaston became the first woman to ever play in a college football game.
Nancy, if I could begin with you, beyond the obvious, why is this an important decision?
Nancy Hogshead, 1984 Olympic gold medalist- I think it's important decision number one because it's getting a lot of attention. But number two is because of the size of the award, it lets all universities know that if they're going to allow women to be able to participate, that they need to do so in a way that treats them just the same way that they treat the guys. Whatever their policies are, they need to make sure they're gender neutral policies.
Ley- You mentioned if they let women participate. And that was where Duke opened the door, is it not? By letting her play on the football team, come out for the football team, they then got out from under the shield of Title IX?
Hogshead- Well, correct. They didn't have to let her participate in contact sports, which as far as I know has only been interpreted to mean football and wrestling.
But once you allow them to participate, then you can't treat them any differently than how you would treat the men. And in this case, she was treated, according to the jury finding, she was treated very differently.
Ley- Bill Renner, how good a kicker was Heather?
Bill Renner, high school football coach - She was very good in a skill that requires fine motor precision. She was very adept at striking the ball. She was very accurate.
And mechanically, she was very sound. We had an opportunity to coach her for four years and witnessed her improvement on a daily as well as a yearly basis.
Ley- You had a chance to also compare her at trial with video of other Duke kickers. Where would you have put her among the group of kickers at Duke? Of the three I viewed, she was second. The only one ahead of her was the gentleman who was the first string kicker.
But mechanically, she was the equal of him. She had just not had as much experience doing it live as the first string kicker did. But mechanically, she was very adept at what she was. And as I mentioned, she's very accurate and a good ball striker.
Ley- Mark Speckman, three years ago you were the offensive coordinator when Liz Heaston was recruited off the soccer team in an emergency. What was that atmosphere like? And what did you think of the decision to bring her in at the time?
Mark Speckman, head coach, Willamette University- Well, we thought that we had a big game coming up. We were in a championship race. We needed a kicker. And ours was injured.
Liz came out and went I think nine for 10 with no pads on and came out the next day and went nine for 10 with the team blocking for her. And we thought she was going to help us win the football game.
Ley- What was the atmosphere like, though, around this decision? Was it a media circus? Duke feared a media circus. Did you have that kind of a carnival atmosphere when it was apparent she was going to kick.
Speckman- It was a media circus. We had ESPN, "Sports Illustrated." Every major media outlet was there. When she came out on the field, there were lots of cameras. We're a Division Three school, so we're not generally scrutinized very closely.
Our score was on "SportsCenter." So we did get a lot more attention than we ever would have dreamed of for simply kicking a point after touchdown.
Ley- And complicating life for you as the coach then?
Speckman- Well, not so much complicating it. Maybe just magnifying something that I don't think Liz wanted or we wanted. We were just trying to win a football game. And I don't think Liz really wanted to crusade anything to show that she was a great athlete and she had the ability to kick.
Ley- Nancy, you might have heard Tonya Butler talk about her concern. She's hoping at this point in the next several weeks perhaps to get an offer of a Division One scholarship. Do you think there is the possibility that this will have a chilling effect?
Hogshead- I think that there are a lot of football teams out there that are going to look at this and look at sort of what do I learn from this? Rather than saying the jury got it wrong or whatever, but what do we learn from this?
And to say that if you want to have the best player out there, maybe we need to have a woman on this team. So what are just some gender neutral policies that we can put in place?
One of the things that Duke said was that she wasn't strong enough and they were worried that she was going to get hurt out there. I think the way to have a policy that would be gender neutral is to say that anybody who is under six feet tall and 200 pounds or whatever it is, that person is not allowed to participate, so it's not male-female, it simply is a size requirement in order to be out there on the field. It's those kind of gender neutral policies that schools need to be looking at.
Ley- But that's at the administrative level. Mark, you're a coach. You have to go out there and recruit. Given this decision and what was placed upon Duke in the way of the damage, would you recruit a female kicker now?
Speckman- No, I wouldn't. I don't think that unless she could win the football game for me and I was convinced of that beforehand. But we make subjective decisions all the time on players, they're too small or too slow or could be for whatever reason.
And I think it is tough to throw in a gender issue because now you have to factor that in. And we make snap decisions all the time on starts and non-starters. We were concerned if Liz picked the football up and had to run, and...
Renner- Bob, I'd like...
Ley- Go ahead, Bill.
Renner- I'd like to say that the kicking position is different than other positions on the field because there is not a physical requirement. It's similar to somebody hitting a golf ball. A smaller person can do it as adeptly if not more so than a bigger person only because it's a mechanical skill.
Having coached offensive line in quite a few other positions, you coach them differently than kickers and punters. And it is a requirement that they're physical, they're aggressive.
But all you have to do is be mechanically efficient. And it doesn't matter if you're male or female to do that.
And so I don't think -- in my experience as a high school coach, I've seen 10, 12 girls who have been kickers, all of whom have been recruited by either the coach or the players because they were adept at the skill, and none of that with regard to the physical aspect.
Generally, when a kicker is placed in a role of having to make a tackle or a thing like that, it's because somebody else has failed at their job, i.e. the bad snap, a missed block. So it's not one of the characteristics I feel that you look for in a kicker. The bottom line decision is can they make the extra point?
As Mark alluded to, that was the decision their staff made, is that she was capable, Liz was, of helping them win a game. And I think if people, and coaches in particular, look at that, they will see that male or female, this particular type of skill is not gender specific.
Ley- OK, Nancy, I saw your eyebrows go up when Mark said he would not recruit a woman. And we'll get to you in just a second as we continue with Nancy Hogshead and Bill Renner and Mark Speckman on OUTSIDE THE LINES looking at the Heather Sue Mercer decision and its impact on women in college football.
Ley- Earlier this fall, this was Mia Hamm at Kansas City Chiefs practice in town for an exhibition match with the U.S. women's national team. Left and right foot from well outside 45 yards putting it through the uprights in front of some astonished Kansas City Chiefs.
Nancy Hogshead, I know you heard Mark Speckman say he would not recruit a female kicker, given what's happened recently. Your thoughts.
Hogshead- He said that what he was worried about is that snap decisions we've made, or that subjective decisions that are made could then cost the school $2 million. And what I want to focus in on was in this case, that's not what happened.
These were not snap decisions. And these were not spontaneous decisions. These were things like the school put an ad in the newspaper asking for anybody who would come and help out the school be part of their squad to shag balls and things like that. She was the only person who was asked to try out after that.
She was put on inactive roster, which was a category created just for her. And she was the only player that was ever cut because of lack of skill.
Now none of those three things I just mentioned were snap decisions. Those were not just spontaneous subjective decisions. These were how are we going to treat Mercer in this one particular situation?
And it's like, what coach would keep Mia Hamm from being on their team if she can help them win games? And that's the key.
Speckman- Well, I don't think it's a snap decision. I think it's something that happens as coaches where you have to decide who's the best player. And if she was the second best kicker or the third best kicker...
Hogshead- Fine. As long as you do it in a way that doesn't single somebody out because of their gender, because of their race, because of their religion...
Hogshead- ... no problem.
Speckman- I think sports has always just kind of naturally been the leader in breaking down barriers. And I think Liz did it by going out and naturally showing her skill and taking the opportunity that was given to her. And there will be other opportunities I believe.
But it certainly is a chilling decision where it would cost a school $2 million if in fact they offered a scholarship and that player wasn't good enough.
Hogshead- In that case, I would argue that they need to look at the specifics of the case because that's just not what the case says. I mean, that's not what...
Ley- Let me bring Bill in for a second.
Renner- I would agree with Nancy. The case wasn't about whether Heather Sue Mercer should have been the starting kicker.
Renner- The case was about whether she had an opportunity to compete for the starting job in a fair and equitable manner. And all the information that I've had for over five years was she was put on the team. But then for other factors other than her ability to execute her skill, decisions were made, as Nancy so adeptly outlined, that prevented her from that opportunity.
So the situation doesn't go from A to Z from well, she should she be on the team to the starting kicker. It's did she have the opportunity? And I think male or female at the kicking position, it doesn't matter with regard to that skill.
Ley- Bill, you've got a female kicker on your high school football team, do you not?
Renner- Yes, sir. That's correct.
Ley- All right, was it a tough call to pick her over the next best guy? And how does your coaching of the team -- is it complicated by having one girl on this team?
Renner- Not in any way, shape, or form. Bob, I've been at the high school level for about 17 years. And females have been involved in male sports for a quite a while.
She was chosen because in the pre-season she was perfect. And the other gentleman was less than perfect. The guys accept her. And we create an atmosphere that we would expect every person on our football team to execute to the best of their ability.
And if they do, they'll be the person that gets to play. She happened to be the one at her position.
It's been a positive thing for us because I think our kids have matured through it. They only care about if she does her job. And she's been very good at what she's done. And I think it's been a good maturing process for our team as well as for the young man with regard to treating our kicker.
Ley- Nancy, 600-plus women playing high school football around the country. Most of them are place kickers. Is it realistic to expect that we will see over the next several years an increasing number, dribs and drabs (ph) perhaps in Division One of women kicking college Division One?
Hogshead- I don't see any reason why not. I mean, up until now it's like nobody kind of believes women's sports are going to do it until they actually do it. So nobody believed they could fill up the Rose Bowl with the World Cup soccer team until they actually did it. So I'm sure drips and drabs as you say that women are going to be entering into this.
Ley- All right, thank you very much. We are out of time. Thank you to Nancy Hogshead and to Bill Renner and to Mark Speckman for discussing this morning that Heather Sue Mercer decision and its impact on college football.
When we continue, the rights of home-schooled athletes. Should they play on local high school athletic teams? We'll continue on OUTSIDE THE LINES.
Last Sunday, we examined the controversy over home-schooled athletes. Do they, should they, have the right to participate in public high school sports?
Well, this topic generated a large response to our e-mail inbox. Opposition to home-school athletes were running four to one among the e-mails we received this week.
From Middletown, Delaware, "As an educator, I watched your segment and found myself screaming at the television. There are many reasons families choose home schooling. But families cannot be allowed to pick and choose what aspect of the school they want. It's a package deal.
"Home school athletes cannot contribute to school spirit and do not have to comply with school policy. These parents have spent many hours educating their children because they believe they can do it better. Let them find a better way for athletics. They can't pick and choose."
A viewer in Seneca, Illinois, writes that he's tired of "grade school and high school educators taking away my rights as a parent. I pay their salary, and as such I expect to be allowed to determine what is right for my children."
From Appleton, Wisconsin, the observation that "parents and teachers who choose to be home schooled are in most cases choosing high academic levels over the extra-curricular activities that a public school system can offer. Deal with it. If a home schooled student is looking to become a member of an athletic team, call your local YMCA or Parks and Recreation Department. I am certain they have programs that will accept interested participants."
Well, the place to register your input is online at ESPN.com. The keyword is otlweekly. You type that on the ESPN home page and your destination then is our web site for all past Sunday morning programs. We've got video on demand and complete transcriptions.
We welcome your comment and feedback. And our e-mail address is always firstname.lastname@example.org. And thanks for being in touch.
Ley- A reminder, if you missed any portion of this morning's show, we re-air in three hours, our usual time on ESPN2 at 1-00 Eastern, 10-00 a.m. Pacific. So tune over right after "Countdown."
"SportsCenter" with Robin Roberts is back in 30 minutes with Chris Berman and company coming along with "NFL COUNTDOWN" 60 minutes from now. Now to the ESPN Zone in Times Square from Dick Schaap and "THE SPORTS REPORTERS."
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