DeFrantz, Anita 1952–
Anita DeFrantz 1952–
Anita DeFrantz did not grow up dreaming of Olympic glory, yet she glided to a bronze medal as an American rower. As a law student she did not plan on becoming a voice for athletes’ rights, yet she made headlines when she opposed the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Her early career goals did not include a starring role in international athletics, however in October of 1986 she made history when she was appointed to the International Olympic Committee (IOC)— the governing body of the Olympic games. She has received dozens of awards for her work on behalf of athletes and nearly as many medals as an athlete herself. Many have called her the most powerful woman in sports. Perhaps even more might agree with the Houston Chronicle which wrote, “Anita DeFrantz, with a stately presence and an Olympic will, may stride into the 21st Century as the most influential sports figure in the world. Period.”
The great–great granddaughter of a Louisiana plantation owner and one of his female servants, DeFrantz was born on October 4, 1952, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to a family of modest means but a wealth of convictions. Her mother, Anita P. DeFrantz, was a teacher and eventually became a professor of education at the University of San Francisco. Her father, Robert DeFrantz, ran an organization called Community Action Against Poverty. “Growing up, when and where I did, knowing the struggles my parents, my grandparents and their ancestors faced, has been an important part of my life,” DeFrantz was quoted on the website of Straits Times. “… what I’ve known about their lives… [and] what I’ve faced in my own life have led me to care about other people.”
The family moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, where DeFrantz grew up with three brothers. While they tore across basketball courts, DeFrantz sat in the bleachers. There were not many opportunities for female athletes. Instead, she found expression in schoolwork and scored an academic scholarship to Connecticut College. There a chance encounter with a rowing coach helped DeFrantz finally get into the game. In an oft told story she was walking across campus when she noticed Burt Gulong carrying a long thin boat. Intrigued, she asked him about it. He explained the rowing shell and sizing up her five–foot eleven–inch frame, suggested she
At a Glance …
Born on October 4, 1952, in Philadelphia, PA; daughter of Anita P. and Robert D. DeFrantz. Education: Connecticut College, BA, political philosophy (honors), 1974; University of Pennsylvania Law School, JD, 1977.
Career: Juvenile Law Center of Philadelphia, attorney, 1977–79; Princeton Univ, administrator, 1979–81; The Corporation for Enterprise Development, counsel, 1980–81; Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, vice pres, 1981–85; Amateur Athletic Foundation, pres, 1987–. U.S, Women’s Rowing Team, team captain, 1976 Olympics, Montreal; World Rowing Championships, 1978; U.S. Women’s Rowing Team, 1975-80.
Selected memberships: International Olympic Committee (IOC), 1986–y executive board, 1992–01, vice pres, 1997-01; pres, bd mem, Kids in Sports; Exec Committee, U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC); bd mem, Vesper Rowing Club; bd mem, U.S. Rowing Assn; trustee, Women’s Sports Foundation; vice pres International Rowing Federation, 1993; bd mem, Women’s World Cup, 1989; trustee, Connecticut Coll.
Selected awards: Winner, six national championships. Olympic Order in bronze, IOC, 1980; Olympic Torch Award, USOC, 1988; Hall of Fame inductee, Connecticut Coll, 1989; Silver Achievement Award for Public Service, Los Angeles YWCA; Award for Sports, Essence Magazine; Martin Luther King Jr. Brotherhood Award, L.A YMCA, 1990; Jack Kelly Award, US. Rowing Assn’s Bd of Dirs, 1991; Award of Excellence, Sports Lawyers Assn, 1992; Turner Broadcasting Trumpet Award, 1993; Bulle Jean King Contribution Award, 1996; named one of the “100 Most Powerful People in Sports,” The Sporting News, nine consecutive years; honorary doctorates: Univ of Rhode Island; Pepper–dine Univ; Mills Coll; Mount Holyoke Coll
Addresses; Office —Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles, 2141 W Adams Blvd, Los Angeles, CA, 90018; Phone: (323) 730–4600.
try out for the newly formed rowing team. She had already unsuccessfully tried college basketball and according to Ebony, “She then turned to rowing because it was new at the school and nobody was expected to know much about it.” DeFrantz would soon know more than most. Her natural athletic ability combined with sheer determination made her one of the best rowers on the team and prompted Gulong to suggest that she consider the Olympics. She later confessed surprise to Sports Illustrated, “I didn’t even know rowing was in the Olympics.”
After graduating with honors in political philosophy she went on to graduate school. “To make my parents happy, I went to law school in 1974,” she told Essence. “To make me happy, I chose the University of Pennsylvania, where there was a rowing club.” During law school DeFrantz continued to excel in rowing. By 1975 she had made the national team and had begun rigorous training in preparation for the 1976 Olympics where women’s rowing would make its debut as an Olympic sport. Rising early to practice, attending classes during the day, and studying into the night, DeFrantz was a living example of the determination it takes to succeed as a world class athlete. In 1976, six years since first laying her eyes on a rowing shell, DeFrantz went to the Montreal Olympics as captain of the U.S. team. She came home an Olympic champion, a bronze medal in hand.
DeFrantz graduated from law school in 1977 and became an attorney in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, her rowing career flourished. She was a member of every national rowing team through 1980 and became a six–time national champion. She was also a five–time finalist in the World Rowing Championships where she scored a silver medal in 1978. However, it was the Olympics that she aspired to and in 1979 DeFrantz took a leave of absence to prepare for the 1980 Moscow games. Then, in January of 1980, DeFrantz was at a party when she overheard President Jimmy Carter on television declaring that in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan he would impose a U.S. boycott of the Moscow games. DeFrantz recalled to Sports Illustrated, “I said, ‘Huh? He must not understand.’ The only people who could decide to surrender all they had worked for were the athletes themselves.” That conviction would lead DeFrantz to publicly defy the President and file suit against the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC), an organization which she was a member of. It would also bring her both national scorn and international fame.
Using her knowledge of the law, DeFrantz found that the Amateur Sports Act of 1978 specifically barred anyone from denying an athlete’s right to compete in the Olympics. She knew that the USOC could send American teams to compete in Moscow despite the Carter administration’s objections. Hundreds of American Olympic atheletes agreed with her and she became their voice in demanding that the USOC act against the boycott. “I thought it was a realistic goal at the time,” DeFrantz later told ESPN.com, adding defiantly, “I was right then and I’m right now.”
Non–athletes saw DeFrantz’s stance as unpatriotic and she was inundated with criticism by the public. She received tons of hate mail. She was also put under intense governmental scrutiny and had her phone tapped. She told Sports Illustrated, “I got visits from people I’m positive were FBI agents wanting to ‘sympathize’ with me.” In April of 1980 the USOC met to vote on the matter. Vice–President Walter Mondale was in attendance, pushing for support of the boycott. Unshaken, DeFrantz delivered her case in a powerful speech. According to Sports Illustrated, she called on the Olympic family to have the courage to do what was right—to let the athletes compete. She finished by saying, “We define our liberty by testing it. This is such a test.” Though her impassioned speech brought the USOC members to cheers, they still voted to support the boycott. In a last ditch effort, DeFrantz became the plaintiff in a suit against the USOC to force them to allow the athletes to compete. The case was quickly dismissed in court. The athletes had lost. DeFrantz and thousands of other American athletes wouldn’t go to the 1980 Olympics. Despite the outcome, DeFrantz has no regrets. “What could I have done differently?” she asked ESPN.com. “It was the right decision. It’s important for athletes to have the right to choose and that right was taken away.”
Though DeFrantz could not compete for a medal during the 1980 Olympics, she nonetheless received one. The IOC, impressed with her leadership role in fighting the boycott, awarded her the Bronze Medal of the Olympic Order. DeFrantz later told Ebony, “I stood up to the Olympic Committee and said that athletes ought to be able to make their own decisions.” She continued, “I think the IOC saw the strength, encouragements and determination I had.” The IOC wasn’t the only body to have taken notice of DeFrantz. In 1981 she was invited to join the management team of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, the group responsible for the 1984 Olympic Games in that city. As vice president of the group, her diplomatic skills were soon proven. According to the Houston Chronicle, “DeFrantz was credited for helping save those Games by convincing African nations not to boycott when South African runner Zola Budd was allowed to run under the British flag.”
Proceeds from the 1984 Olympic Games were used to establish the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles (AAF). DeFrantz became president of this organization in 1987. “The AAF provides sports opportunities for all our kids,” DeFrantz told Ebony. “For too long it’s been only the wealthy who had access to sports. Sports teaches boys and girls that they can learn a skill, make decisions, develop camaraderie and get a sense of belonging.” However, her commitment to athletic opportunities is not taken blindly. She understands that very few people make it as professional athletes and she told Ebony that she is determined to make sure kids know this too. “I tell Black kids that there are about the same number of pro athletes in the U.S. as there are neurosurgeons, about 5,000.… And to those teachers who just pass athletes, I say, ‘Shame on you!’”
In 1986 DeFrantz drew the interest of the IOC once again. The USOC had submitted her name as a candidate to fill a vacancy on the IOC board created by the death of one of the two U.S. representatives. She was selected over four other prominent American athletic administrators, becoming just the fifth woman to serve on the IOC, as well as the first black American and the first American woman to serve on the committee. The appointment made DeFrantz a voting member of the organization until age 75, after which her position becomes honorary. “Life is good,” she told Sports Illustrated, soon after joining the committee. “I love what I’m doing. It’s rare at my age to know I’ll be in this for so long.”
During the 1988 and 1992 Olympics, DeFrantz served as the chief administrator for the Olympic Village. From 1989 to 1994 she served on the Summer Program Commission that determines what sports will be included in Olympic competition. In 1992 she joined the IOC’s Executive Board and in 1995 she became chair of the IOC’s Committee on Women and Sports. She is credited with getting women’s softball and soccer added to the Olympic ticket. When the first U.S. women’s softball team beat China for the gold in Atlanta in 1996, DeFrantz was in the stands cheering. As in her pre–IOC life, she has also not shied away from controversy if that meant speaking her mind. In 1988 at the Seoul Summer Games when Ben Johnson, a prominent Olympian, tested positive for steroids, DeFrantz was quick to speak up—a rare move for a new member of the IOC. Before the international press, she denounced Johnson, calling him a coward and a cheat. She later brushed off the controversy, telling the Los Angeles Times, “So I stood strong for athletes who compete with integrity.”
In 1997 DeFrantz became the first female vice president in the IOC’s 103–year history. According to the website of the Women’s Sports Foundation, “[DeFrantz’s] status is not a derivative of wealth or politics, but rather an uncompromising pursuit of the noble spirit of sports.” She remains committed to the rights of athletes and works hard to keep international sports free from politics. She told the Houston Chronicle, “I only try to do what is right for the athletes. I’ll tell you what I think and that’s about all.” In 1998 when news of the bribery scandal involving top–IOC brass and the Salt Lake City bid to host the Olympics broke, De–Frantz was not tainted. “I lead my life with integrity,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “I believe in the fundamental principles of the Olympic movement, and those are based on respect and integrity.”
Her success in sports administration at the AAF and the Olympics as well as her reputation for integrity and commitment, made her a natural candidate for the presidency of the IOC and she announced her bid for the seat in February of 2001. The IOC had always been headed by men, all of them white, and all but one European. Of these odds, DeFrantz told U.S. News and World Report, “I’ve been a pioneer my whole life.” Though she lost her presidential bid, DeFrantz will not be stepping down from the Olympic movement anytime soon. She told the Los Angeles Times during her candidacy, “My vision is one of inclusion. We have unity. Now we need inclusion.” Inclusion of women, of minorities, of poor as well as rich, in the arena of Olympic competition still requires vigilance and commitment. DeFrantz is committed to providing both.
Ebony, July 1992, p. 76.
Essence, January 1996, p. 89.
Jet, February 26, 2001, p. 50.
Los Angeles Times, February 3, 2001, p. D1.
Sports Illustrated, October 27, 1986, p. 13; August 29, 1988, p. 134.
U.S. News & World Report, March 12, 2001, p. 17.
The Washington Post, September 2, 2000, p. D1.
Houston Chronicle, www.chron.com/content/chronicle/sports/special/barriers/defrantz.html
Sports Illustrated, http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/siforwomen/top_l00
Straits Times, http://straitstimes.asia1.com.sg/mnt/html/women/featured10.html
American athletic administrator
In 1986 Anita DeFrantz became the first American woman and first African American to serve on the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Her inclusion was considered groundbreaking in an institution that has been dominated by white men and non-athletes. DeFrantz was a former rower, who first became involved in organized sports when she was in college. She competed in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, the first Olympic Games to include rowing, where her team won the bronze medal. After completing law school, DeFrantz protested the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Olympics in the Soviet Union, where she had also hoped to compete. Despite the unpopularity of this challenge, she was soon working for the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC), starting with the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. DeFrantz has been the president of the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles since 1987 and serves on the boards of numerous sports organizations. She made an unsuccessful bid to become the first female president of the IOC in 2002. An advocate for athletes including children, women, and minorities, she is one of the most influential women in sports.
Growing up in Indianapolis, Indiana, DeFrantz watched her brothers play basketball but did not have similar opportunities to compete. As a student at Connecticut College, her five foot-eleven figure made her a welcome candidate for the rowing team. Her aptitude for the sport put her on the U.S. women's team at the Montreal Olympics in 1976. The team was awarded the bronze medal in the first Olympic event of its kind, placing behind East German and Soviet teams. DeFrantz continued to row while in law school at the University of Pennsylvania, and would be part of every national team from 1975 to 1980, including the silver medal-winning team at the 1978 World Championships.
In 1976 DeFrantz became an advocate for athletes when she joined the U.S. Olympic Committee's Athletes Advisory Council. She would testify before the Senate to support the Amateur Sports Act of 1978, which reworked how Olympic sports were governed in the United States. In order to prepare for the 1980 Olympics, DeFrantz took a leave of absence from her job at a public interest law firm in Philadelphia. She was horrified when, in January 1980, President Jimmy Carter spoke out against U.S. participation in the Olympics in the Soviet Union, following that country's invasion of Afghanistan. After failing to persuade
the USOC to reject Carter's request, DeFrantz was a plaintiff in an unsuccessful lawsuit challenging the boycott. These efforts made DeFrantz unpopular with some, including individuals who sent her hate mail. However, she was also awarded the Bronze Medal of the Olympic Order for her support of the 1980 Olympic Games.
DeFrantz would not be ostracized by the USOC for her challenge to the boycott. She was hired by Peter Ueberroth as a vice president of the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, where she served as chief administrator for the Olympic Village. When she was elected to the IOC in 1986, she was selected over Ueberroth, who was the commissioner of Major League Baseball at the time, and swimming champion/sports reporter Donna de Varona. This made DeFrantz just the fifth woman on the 93-member IOC, as well as the first African American and first American woman on the committee. The appointment is for life and makes DeFrantz a voting member until she is 75. In 1997 she became the organization's first female vice president, a position she held until 2001.
|1952||Born October 4 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Anita P. and Robert D. DeFrantz|
|1974||Graduates from Connecticut College with a B.A. in political philosophy|
|1976||Wins Olympic bronze medal as member of the U.S. women's rowing team|
|1977||Graduates from the University of Pennsylvania Law School|
|1977-79||Works as attorney at the Juvenile Law Center of Philadelphia|
|1978||Wins silver medal in rowing at the World Championships|
|1979-81||Administrator at Princeton University|
|1980||Sues U.S. Olympic Committee to stop boycott of Olympics in Moscow|
|1980-81||Serves as counsel to the Corporation for Enterprise Development|
|1981-85||Serves as vice president for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee|
|1986||Named to the International Olympic Committee|
|1987||Named president of the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles|
|1992||Named to the IOC executive board|
|1997-2001||Serves as first female vice president of IOC|
|2001||Makes unsuccessful bid to become IOC president|
While she serves on the boards of several organizations, one of DeFrantz's larger responsibilities is serving as president and board member of the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles (AAFLA). The Los Angeles Olympic Games had a $230 million profit, from which $93 million went to form the AAFLA. The foundation grants funds to youth sports organizations and has created the largest sports library in North America. At the same time, DeFrantz's work with the IOC and USOC has made her an important figure in Olympic planning and management for nearly two decades. For the 1992 games in Barcelona she was in charge of the Olympic Village housing project and served on the program and eligibility commissions. She would later be part of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games and the Salt Lake City Olympic Organizing Committee.
Throughout her work, DeFrantz has tried to create gender equity for female athletes and sports managers. She helped put women's soccer and softball in the Olympics and led the way in creating an IOC policy requiring that women make up at least ten percent of the board and national Olympic committees. In 2001, with the endorsement of the USOC, she sought to become the first female and black president of the IOC. Despite being arguably the most influential female administrator in sports, DeFrantz was considered a long shot and was eliminated in the first round of voting. News reports explained that she lost votes because some members wanted to block the election of controversial candidate Kim Un-Yong of South Korea, who was said to have been shopping for votes. Jacques Rogge of Belgium was elected to replace Juan Antonio Samaranch as president.
Having begun her involvement in sports in rowing, a field dominated by whites, and then making an unpopular challenge to the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Olympics, Anita DeFrantz started her career as an outsider. She has since been highly successful in advancing the rights of all athletes and widening opportunities for children, women, and minorities in sports. Although she has sought to upset the status quo in sports, DeFrantz has been happy working within some of the oldest and most tradition-bound institutions. As a member of the IOC and the USOC, as well as many other sports organizations, she has been involved in a staggering number of athletic events and a wide range of policy developments. Her achievements make her a pioneer among American women and African Americans.
Awards and Accomplishments
|1976||Olympic bronze medal in rowing|
|1978||Silver medal in rowing at the World Championships|
|1980||Awarded Bronze Medal of the Olympic Order|
|1986||Became first American woman and African American to be selected to the International Olympic Committee|
|1988||Awarded U.S. Olympic Committee Olympic Torch Award|
|1991||Received Honor Award from the National Association of Women Collegiate Athletic Administrators|
|1993||Received Turner Broadcasting Trumpet Award|
|1996||Awarded Billie Jean King Contribution Award|
Address: Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles, 2141 W. Adams Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90018. Phone:(213) 730-9614.
Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd edition. Detroit: Gale Group, 1998.
Who's Who Among African Americans, Detroit: Gale Group, 2001.
Collier, Aldore. "Olympic Power." Ebony (July 1992): 76.
Fischman, Josh. "A rower's Olympic dream." U.S. News & World Report (March 12, 2001): 17.
Meyer, John. "DeFrantz: Voting impacted by Kim." Denver Post (July 17, 2001): D-08.
Moore, Kenny. "An advocate for athletes; Anita DeFrantz is an unlikely member of the powerful IOC." Sports Illustrated (August 29, 1988): 134.
Sharp, Kathleen. "Unsung Heroes." Women's Sports & Fitness (July-August 1996): 64.
Sullivan, Robert. "New Blood in the IOC." Sports Illustrated (October 27, 1986): 13.
Warner, Adrian. "Olympic Games: DeFrantz to run for IOC Presidency." Independent (February 6, 2001): 23.
"Americans lose influence in IOC leadership." Associated Press File (August 25, 2001).
Sketch by Paula Pyzik Scott