Judge an advocate for equity in athletics
New London — Janet Judge would have been a fifth-year senior and captain of the Harvard University women's soccer team in 1984, having received a medical waiver from the NCAA for an extra year of eligibility following a rib injury.
Just prior to the season, however, the NCAA ruled that Judge had used her final year of eligibity by accompanying the Crimson on a trip to Europe over the summer.
"No question," Judge said, asked if that decision had an effect on the outcome of her career choice.
Judge, an attorney at Holland & Knight LLP in Boston and one of the most prominent authorities on sports law in the United States, served as the keynote speaker Monday at the Coast Guard Academy's eighth annual Women's "Leadhership" Symposium, which took place at the academy's Otto Graham Hall of Athletic Excellence.
Kicking off the day's events, Judge spoke to the assembled collegiate coaches and administrators from around New England about a number of pertinent topics, including Title IX, NCAA compliance and how better to articulate team rules and expectations. Judge has conducted workshops for more than 500 NCAA institutions of all levels, in addition to athletic conferences and sports coaches' associations.
"I lost my eligibility when I was a student-athlete," Judge explained later, following her presentation, asked how she turns such a serious topic into something relatable. "I have a lot of empathy. ... I made a promise to myself I would stay involved on the ground (level)."
Judge has always had a connection to sports. ("When I was playing sports, my grades went up; when I wasn't playing sports, my grades went down," she said.) Even while attending law school at Boston University — she is a 1993 graduate — Judge remained active in both pursuits, coaching soccer and basketball at nearby Simmons College.
Judge has since helped shape the ever-evolving field of sports law, handling student-athlete eligibility issues, social media education, Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act compliance, contract negotiation and equity analysis. She also shares preventative strategies, as she touched on Monday, regarding sexual misconduct, hazing, academic fraud, student-athlete discipline and employment issues.
"It's stuff that once you do it, it takes a huge weight off your plate," Judge said of the proactive measures. "I think people realize I'm here for them and not against them. ... There are fabulous things going on. We've got some challenging things going on, too."
She has a Google alert on her phone for news of Title IX and reads every case involving the federal mandate. She teaches a course on it.
She has spoken to the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics on the topic of gender equity. She was recently named the 2019 Sports Lawyer of the Year (Boston) by U.S. News & World Report.
"It's very relavant," said Coast Guard athletic director Tim Fitzpatrick, who originally met Judge at a diversity and inclusion seminar in Chicago while he was AD at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. "I had heard about Janet. She's dynamic, but in a way it makes people feel comfortable."
Fitzpatrick, who himself was responsible for rewriting the athletic department's policies and procedures manual for the first time since 1991 upon his arrival at Coast Guard, said it's important the rules are articulated in a way that coaches and athletes can both understand them.
"The culture is changing," Coast Guard softball coach Donna Koczajowski said Monday. "It's the onus of the coaches to change. I've been coaching a long time, but you improve with the sport. You're improving with compliance."
"It's always great to hear what goes on outside our little world," Connecticut College women's hockey coach Kristin Steele said.
Other panelists and session facilitators included BU women's soccer coach Nancy Feldman; Western Connecticut field hockey coach Dani McDonnell; Averett athletic director Meg Stevens, DePauw athletic director Stevie Baker-Watson; Otterbein athletic director Dawn Stewart; Wellesley senior associate AD Lauren Haynie; Assumption AD Jamie Marcoux; and Becker assistant AD Andrea Belis.