Before becoming a poster child for gender equity in athletics, Heather Sue Mercer was an all-state place kicker at Yorktown Heights High School in Yorktown Heights, New York (pop. 7,972). She enrolled at Duke University in the fall of 1994 and decided to become the first woman ever to try out for the Duke football team. Initially she failed to make the team as a walk-on, but the following spring she was invited by the seniors on the team to play in the annual Blue-White scrimmage. She ended up kicking a game-winning twenty-eight-yard field goal. Afterwards, Duke head coach Fred Goldsmith and kicking coach Fred Chatham both told her she was on the team, and she appeared on The Tonight Show at the school's behest. It became clear before long, though, that Mercer would not be treated just like one of the boys.
Goldsmith did not allow her to attend pre-season camp. He suggested to her instead that she might participate in other extracurricular activities, such as beauty pageants or cheerleading. She should, as Goldsmith's daughter had done with baseball, "outgrow her interest." He refused to issue her a uniform, banished her to sit in the stands "with her boyfriend," and removed her, uniquely, from the team's "active roster." After a year in which Mercer was the only team member not issued a uniform, she was officially told that there was no place for her on the Duke football team. Her dismissal made her another first: the first member of the team Goldsmith ever had dismissed for ostensible performance-based reasons. Mercer contacted an attorney the following spring and subsequently filed suit against the university.
Hands Off Policy: Equal Protection and the Contact Sports Exemption of Title IX,
Mich. J. Gender & L.
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