By Lynette Carrington
Anita DeFrantz has been a trailblazer and champion in so many ways throughout the course of her life and career. A landmark announcement as it relates to the 2028 Olympics was just made, and I was thrilled to sit down with DeFrantz who is a member of the International Olympic Committee and the IOC Executive Board. Additionally, she serves on the Legal Affairs Commission of the IOC, which is comprised of many lawyers, and she sits on the Finance Commission, which reviews the investments and spending plans. DeFrantz also continued her winning streak with her election on September 15 to a Vice Presidence of the Executive Board with the prestigious International Olympic Committee (IOC).
DeFrantz’s Olympic story had its roots in the 1970s. As the captain of the 1976 U.S. women’s rowing team, DeFrantz brought home the bronze that year. Her Olympic experience was a life-changer. “There were two things. First, living in the Olympic Village, which is a town or village unlike anywhere else in the world. There was a lot of mutual respect. Everyone there was successful. They had each been selected to represent their country, which was a wonderful feeling.” Although she and her fellow Olympians knew there were not enough of those medals to go around, she ultimately felt respect amongst the athletes. “For me, learning about other sports was remarkable,” adds DeFrantz.
She continues, “The second reason was primarily, the fact that unfortunately the women’s rowing team was the ‘last team through,’ and I thought, ‘How could our team not provide for every team member?’ That set me on to the important questions of ‘Why?’ and how do these things happen and how can I help them to not happen?” Sadly, team members did not have uniforms, very little food was provided and the coaching was inadequate. She goes into some discussion about this area in her new book, “My Olympic Life: A Memoir.” She ultimately went on to champion athletes’ rights, fought sexual harassment, helped to evolve archaic gender verification rules and even helped to introduce women’s soccer and softball as Olympic events.
Where DeFrantz’s grace and tenacity served her on that 1976 rowing team, she now relished her new role in athletics with aplomb. She continued to serve her fellow athletes and served on an advisory council of the U.S. Olympic Committee (while attending law school and becoming interested in public interest law, no less). Despite knowing only one person in the city, DeFrantz moved to Los Angeles in 1981 and ultimately lent her voice and strong insights to helping secure the Olympics for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
DeFrantz was elected to the IOC membership in 1986, making her the first African-American and the first American woman to serve on the committee. She essentially transitioned from her athlete days to become an activist, goodwill ambassador, scholar, a speaker and an involved local community and global leader who has continued to inspire others everywhere she goes.
In Service to Los Angeles
In 1987, DeFrantz began a 28-year role serving the legacy of 1984 LA Games as president of the LA28 Foundation, which by then had received 40 percent of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics proceeds. Over the past 30 years, the LA28 Foundation has invested more than $225 million to support more than 2,000 youth sports organizations, and it continues to provide Los Angeles youth with recreation and sports opportunities. “I’m so proud of what we’re able to do. We created a coaching clinic to teach people how to coach,” explains DeFrantz. “Too often, you get a clipboard and a whistle and they call you a coach. By the time I left, over 75,000 people had been through our coaching program.” Venus and Serena Williams are included among the people who have done the program. The foundation also maintains a massive digital library of all things sports.
In 1992, she was named a member of the IOC Executive Board. In 1997, she became the organization’s first female vice president, a position held by only four people at a time. From 1989-1994 she served on the IOC’s Summer Program Commission, which determines which sports will be included in the Olympic competition. In 1995, she became chair of the IOC’s Women and Sports Commission.
She remarks about the strong leadership skills of executive Peter Ueberroth who served as chairman of the USOC and helped the group to run like a corporation. “There could not have been a better person than Peter Ueberroth,” says DeFrantz. “He was the right person at the right time to run that operation and he had the courage to do it.”
Book and Other Endeavors
DeFrantz’s new book is entitled, “My Olympic Life: A Memoir.” Perhaps DeFrantz has been shaped by the Olympics as much as DeFrantz has helped shape the Olympics themselves. Her book details her journey, her trials and tribulations, and her passion in serving Olympic athletes around the world, her community and youngsters and athletes in her LA. In her family upbringing, there was a strong focus on civil rights, a focus that has gone on to serve millions in many different arenas of interest through DeFrantz’s works. “My Olympic Life, A Memoir” can be purchased here. Co-authored with Josh Young over the course of a year, “My Olympic Life” highlights the fascinating life and trailblazing times of DeFrantz.
Reading “My Olympic Life” will reveal why DeFrantz has been named one of the “150 Women Who Shake the World” by “Newsweek” and one of the “101 Most Influential Minorities in Sports by “Sports Illustrated.” Her story is captivating on both a human level and a global scale. Much more than a celebration of civil rights and Olympic victories, it reveals how one motivated, courageous, and passionate person can help change the world.
DeFrantz is also the president of the Tubman Truth Program. “I wanted to end slavery. Period,” she states. “The idea is to work in particular, with corporations that may not realize that they are contributing to forced labor human trafficking somewhere through their pipeline. I’m trying to change that.” Companies involved in everything from chocolate production to clothing assembly could potentially be assisted by the insight and guidance of the Tubman Truth Program.
A Different Kind of Challenge
A few years ago, DeFrantz was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Not keen to make it a focus in the public limelight, she chose to keep her battle quiet until now. “I feel I’m very fortunate. At first, I wanted to keep it a secret, in part, because of the way people look a little bit differently at someone, and I understand why. But, I did not want to add to my life’s challenges.”
In hindsight, she wishes she would have become more outspoken earlier after her diagnosis, but she is now committed to keeping her story out there and advocating for those living with M.S. She says there is an aspect of fatigue with M.S., but outside of little things, she is doing quite well. “Run as fast as you can, and that’s what I’ve been doing,” finishes DeFrantz.
More about Anita DeFrantz
DeFrantz has B.A. from Connecticut College and a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. She holds honorary doctorate degrees from several college and universities, including Pepperdine University, Mount Holyoke College and Pomona College.
She has received numerous awards, honors, and recognitions. In 2011, “Newsweek” named her one of “150 Women Who Shake the World,” and “Los Angeles Magazine” named her one of “10 Women Making a Difference in Los Angeles.” In 2010, the French magazine “L’Equipe” named her one of the “10 Women Who Changed Sport” in the world. In 2006, the NCAA named her one of “NCAA’s Most 100 Influential Student Athletes.” In May 2003, “Sports Illustrated” named her one of the 101 most influential minorities in all of sports, and from 1991-1999, “The Sporting News” named her one of the 100 most powerful people in sports. Visit www.anitadefrantz.com to learn more.
About Lynette Carrington
Award-winning wordsmith Lynette Carrington has more than 14 years of print, online and television media experience at both local and national levels. She has amassed a portfolio encompassing more than 14,500 published articles, book contributions and duties co-hosting a magazine television show. Lynette sits on the Board of Directors for Southwest Kids’ Cancer Foundation in Arizona. Her work can be seen on Geocentric Media, Inc. sites, including www.Scottsdale.com. Additionally, her work is featured in her own syndicated column through Geocentric Media, Inc.