Sex Segregation in Sports as a Public Health Issue

32 Pages Posted: 28 Aug 2017  

Nancy Leong

University of Denver Sturm College of Law

Emily Bartlett


Date Written: August 25, 2017


This Article adds a critical yet previously unaddressed dimension to the growing debate about the merits of sex segregation in sports by approaching sex segregation in sports as a public health issue. Participation in sports has consequences for women’s health, ranging from physical fitness to disease prevention to self-esteem to mental wellness to eating disorders. Critically, sex segregation in sports both reduces women’s participation in sports and changes the nature of the sports in which women participate, both of which have implications for the myriad health issues we discuss. The Article argues that analysis under the Equal Protection clause of governmentally-imposed sex-segregation must incorporate these consequences. Even where the government has plausible reasons for segregating sports by sex, those reasons may not be sufficient to survive intermediate scrutiny when the health issues are taken into account. The Article does not argue that sports should never be segregated by sex. Rather, it argues that the correct analysis must take into account all the relevant considerations, including those affecting health.

The Article proceeds as follows. Part I surveys the arguments regarding sex segregation in sports and summarize the current state of the law. Part II considers sex segregation as a public health issue, noting the relationship between sports participation and a variety of physical, mental, and emotional health issues for women. To the extent that sex segregation depresses or alters women’s participation in sports, that issue is one implicating important public health considerations. Finally, Part III discusses the implications of treating sex segregation in sports as a public health issue, both for the law and for sports more broadly.

Suggested Citation

Leong, Nancy and Bartlett, Emily, Sex Segregation in Sports as a Public Health Issue (August 25, 2017). Available at SSRN:

Nancy Leong (Contact Author)

University of Denver Sturm College of Law ( email )

2255 E. Evans. Ave.
# 465A
Denver, CO 80208-0600
United States

Emily Bartlett

Independent ( email )

No Address Available

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