Rebel With a Cause: Anita DeFrantz

Years before Anita DeFrantz became the first African American member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and decades prior to being voted its first female vice president, DeFrantz was simply an Olympic rower. As captain of the American women’s rowing team, she helped the squad bring home the bronze from the 1976 Montreal Olympics. “I remember working at night, going to law school usually by day, and then training in between,” says the 61-year-old. "And that’s the way it was, just living on the edge and having no health (insurance), and you just had to make sure you didn’t get sick.”

Self-financing her travel and training, DeFrantz was in the midst of preparing for the 1980 games when life changed. President Jimmy Carter delivered a speech hinting towards having American Olympians boycott the 1980 Moscow games in protest of the Soviet Union’s controversial invasion of Afghanistan. The words – which never took into account the tireless years of hard work and money spent by countless athletes to prepare for the games – broke DeFrantz’s heart. But she morphed into immediate activist mode. “He should not have interfered with us. You can’t get that back. There are people who will not,” she says. “To be an Olympian you have to compete at the games. There are members of the U.S. team who did not have that, and I remember talking to them before and what they had done to get to the point where they could qualify and be selected. And then to say that you can’t go? Why? I fought it publicly.”

DeFrantz soldiered on with voice and confidence intact. She was an Olympic crusader, traveling to the White House, refusing to shake the president's hand, dodging hate mail and death threats aimed at her audacity in fearlessly speaking out against the government. Although her fight was fierce and supported by Olympians across the States, DeFrantz and her collective of protesters weren’t powerful enough to beat President Carter's political agenda. The 1980 games went on without the Americans. “I’m glad that the games went on,” she says. “The Europeans went. Puerto Rico competed.”

Flash forward to 2014, and things seem to have come full circle. Once again, Russia is in the mix with this year’s winter games taking place in Sochi. But DeFrantz is no longer battling the American government. Instead, she fulfills her game management duties as an IOC member, now deeply immersed in the Olympic experience that was robbed from her in 1980. As an IOC big wig DeFrantz does everything from traveling the world, attaining sponsors, motivating athletes, inspiring children, to picking host cities and promoting world peace through sporting comradery. When she’s back home in Southern California, DeFrantz continues her crusade with the LA 84, a non-profit dedicated to providing funding and training for thousands of youth sports programs in the Southern California area. “Sports is important, the activities of sport, the experiences in sport, it’s an excellent investment,” she says. “And I will make certain that those athletes have a wonderful opportunity to feel what it is to be an Olympian.”

If you missed Sunday’s full TV interview with Anita DeFrantz discussing security concerns and winter Olympic events on Black Enterprise’s Our World, check it below.