Allyson Felix says women’s sports ‘helped set the tone’ for her activism on women’s rights

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Olympic gold medalist and world-record holder in women’s sprints for 100 and 200 meters, Allyson Felix, welcomed a panel of athletics champions on Thursday, launching an effort to rally global support for the continued work of the human rights campaign Principle 6 and its claims of gender equality in sports.

Felix and others, including U.S. Olympic Committee Board Chair Scott Blackmun, took part in a panel discussion titled “Stand for Principle 6,” focusing on the problem of gender inequity in athletics and whether athletics is the right place to bring attention to the issue.

Principle 6, recently released by the International Olympic Committee, serves as a reference for discussions about gender equity in the world of sport.

It calls for universality of equal opportunities for women and girls and would prohibit discrimination by sport’s international governing bodies.

As a co-founder of Principle 6, Felix is providing her voice and support for the movement and has already called for reforms by the IOC by asking the group to require gender equity for organizing committees, programs and leagues within 20 years.

Felix, who last month became the first women’s athlete inducted into the International Sports Hall of Fame, said she has been inspired by women’s efforts around the world.

The other panelists included U.S. soccer players Julie Foudy and Kristine Lilly, plus Mary Mitchell, who helped the U.S. soccer team win a pair of Olympic gold medals.

The discussion focused on how sports can lead positive social change.

“We don’t know what our goals and aspirations and dreams for ourselves are, we can’t just be our own selves in the sport,” Foudy said. “It’s really liberating.”

Felix took issue with the way on-field and off-field conduct have been discussed in the media in the past year, with each player getting singled out for their off-field behavior or in the cases of NFL player Ray Rice, wide receiver Adrian Peterson and now quarterback Johnny Manziel.

But Peterson is accused of hitting his 4-year-old son, and Manziel was involved in an incident where he allegedly hit his girlfriend and made threats.

“It’s important to really talk about it across the board,” Felix said. “Everyone that’s done it is committing a crime and they’re punished for it. I’m not playing baseball. I don’t even know what would be punishable. I don’t want to touch my kid with that hot glue gun.

“It’s not necessarily about a team taking care of an individual, it’s an individual doing it. That’s what seems like an all-in deal to me.”

Felix said she is “jumping on the bandwagon” and attending a number of the events around the country to promote the mission of Principle 6 and its calls for gender equity in sport.

“I want to make sure everyone knows that this is more than just what’s on the calendar,” Felix said. “I want to make sure that people understand this is more than just something that can become about competition, but is something that can bring on a positive change.”

She cited Olympic skiing medalist Stacey Cook, who fell short in the 100 meters and then provided a commentary on the idea of female athletes overcoming their shortcomings and motivating each other to move forward.

Felix said she was inspired by Cook to be involved in the sports world with initiatives for women and girls and to bring attention to causes other than herself and help amplify other people’s voices and initiatives.

She said that, as a black athlete, she is more involved with change in race relations than in her own race.

“It’s one of the things that was expected of me,” Felix said. “This is what we, as black athletes, have been doing.”

Foudy, who made her mark on soccer and the Olympic movement when she was part of the U.S. team’s gold medal winning team at the 1996 Atlanta Games, said sports always serve as a platform for positive change and that sports allow people to discuss issues they do not feel comfortable with having a serious conversation about in public.

“This issue shouldn’t be dealt with in the public,” Foudy said. “It shouldn’t be in the media. It should be a discussion within sports.”

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