Fighting Smart for Fairness in Women’s Sports

·4 min read

Executives make decisions every day. And those decisions send a signal to the world: Does this executive lead, or does she follow? I’ve made it a point throughout my career to make smart decisions based on facts, not to mindlessly follow the urges of the loudest voices.

Last year, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, my health secretary asked me, “Governor do you want to make decisions that feel good, or do you want to do good?”

That question has stuck with me and informed virtually every decision that I’ve made since, including my approach to protecting fairness in women’s sports.

Only girls should play girls’ sports. That fact should be obvious to everyone, and majorities of virtually every voting demographic agree with legislation to protect women’s sports.

This issue is very personal to me. I’ve been a student athlete. Thankfully, I was never a 15-year-old girl forced to shower next to a 17-year-old boy. My daughters both played collegiate sports. Thankfully, they were never subjected to that either. My older daughter, Kassidy, is pregnant with a baby girl right now. I want to ensure that my granddaughter has the same opportunities that I had and that my daughters had.

That is why we need to get this right. Since November, my team and I have worked to find the best way to defend women’s sports effectively — not just to feel good, but to do good. We have to be able to win in court.

It is for that reason that I asked the South Dakota state legislature to make revisions to HB 1217. As passed, this bill was a trial lawyer’s dream. It would have immediately been enjoined had I signed it into law, meaning that no girls in South Dakota would have been protected.

Unfortunately, the state legislature failed to accept my proposed revisions to the legislation. So I have signed two executive orders: one to protect fairness in K–12 athletics, and another to do so in college athletics.

Conservatives should not doubt my desire to fight on this issue. I previously stood against the federal government when the USDA attempted to force girls to compete with boys in 4-H rodeo. I didn’t have other leaders standing with me in that fight, but we won it, nonetheless.

I also stood for freedom while protecting the health of South Dakotans in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. I was the only governor who did not shut down a single church or business in my state. I never picked winners and losers by defining what an “essential business” is. I didn’t mandate masks. We sent our kids back to school in the fall. And as a result, South Dakota has the fastest economic growth and the lowest unemployment rate of any state.

I’ve signed numerous important conservative priorities into law, including constitutional carry, a Down syndrome abortion ban, protections for babies born-alive after a failed abortion, sweeping homeschool reforms, and stand-your-ground legislation. I am always willing to fight for what is right, but we have to take on these battles in a smart way. We have to be strategic so that we can win.

This fight is too important to lose. That’s why I am asking the legislature to come back into special session in late May or early June — to pass a better version of HB 1217 that addresses the drafting errors and will stand up in court. We must take on this fight; we just need to be strategic with how we proceed.

In the meantime, I will continue my efforts to build a coalition of athletes, governors, attorneys general, and other leaders to take on the NCAA. You can join our efforts at Once our coalition is large enough, there is no way that the NCAA can possibly punish us all. And then, we can flip the economic pressure around on them.

The bottom line is that we need success, not failure. We need to actually win. A participation trophy isn’t going to cut it. I look forward to the South Dakota legislature passing a bill that will win in court. Until that day, my executive orders will work to protect girls in the state of South Dakota, both at the K–12 and collegiate level. Our girls deserve nothing less.

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