If Dr. Christine Grant could be described in one word, it would be “influencer.” And no, not that kind of influencer.
“[Grant] influenced decisions and she influenced behavior,” said Iowa’s deputy director of athletics, COO, and senior women’s administrator Barbara Burke. “She influenced the direction of women's athletics through her entire career. And what better way to describe a change agent? Just with her style, her leadership, her compassion, her energy, [...], everything that you want to see in a leader; those were her characteristics.”
On Dec. 31, 2021, Grant passed away at the age of 85, and while she may be gone, her legacy certainly is not.
Grant’s career began as a player and coach in field hockey in Scotland—her native country—as well as Canada before she made her way to the University of Iowa. There, Grant earned her bachelor’s degree in physical education in 1969. Forever wearing the colors of black and gold, Grant went on to obtain her master’s in physical education the following year—she also earned her Ph.D in sports administration in 1974—but that was just the beginning for her.
Only three years later, Grant was breaking barriers, becoming Iowa’s first director of women’s intercollegiate athletics and remained in that position until her retirement on Aug. 31, 2000.
During her time as director, Grant constructed a strong athletic program while also speaking up on gender equality in sports. The former Hawkeye was a key figure in implementing Title IX, the federal legislation passed in 1972 that required equal opportunity in sports and education, in Iowa’s athletic department. Grant even served as a consultant for the Civil Rights Title IX Task Force. After Grant’s retirement, Iowa combined the men’s and women’s athletic departments into one.
“[Grant] created lifelong friendships with individuals that could help advance girls and women in sports,” Burke said. “I think for her and for women like myself, she created that path forward. Her generation of leaders created a path for my generation of leaders and hopefully we're creating a path for that next generation of leaders. She was one of the individuals that was very influential in promoting and serving girls and women in sports.”
Because of this determination, Grant’s influence extended beyond the Hawkeye campus or even the Big Ten conference. In addition to her duties as an AD, Grant was also a founding member of the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW), serving as president-elect, president, and past president from 1979 to ‘82.
After her time with the AIAW, Grant went on to serve on the board of directors for the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletic Administrators (NACWAA)—now Women Leaders in College Sports — from 1984 to 1987 and then served as president the following year. Grant also chaired the NACWAA’s Committee on Gender Equality.
Her crusade didn’t end there — Grant served on the NCAA Special Committee to Review the NCAA Membership Structure (1988-90), the NCAA Special Committee on Assessing Interests of Female Student-Athletes (1993-94), and the NCAA Committee on Committees (1993-96).
Grant was serving on the NCAA Cabinet on Academics/Eligibility and Compliance as well as the NCAA Subcommittee on Amateurism and Agents until her retirement in 2000. The changes Grant made in the women’s college athletics landscape earned her a spot in the University of Iowa Athletics Hall of Fame in 2006.
Grant accomplished so much during her time at Iowa and even after, but she also had a profound impact on Iowa’s women’s basketball head coach Lisa Bluder.
“[Grant] hired me, so she kind of got me on this path at Iowa, but it's a lot more than that,” Bluder said. “She was my mentor; she was a role model for me. She taught me how to think in a different way. I'd always been aware of the inequalities, but she taught me to sit in a room and listen with a different ear set, and listen for those subtle inequalities that people were talking about and have the courage to bring them to attention. So I really credit Dr. Grant for helping me identify my values.”
Even though Grant is gone, people like Bluder and Burke want to keep her memory alive by continuing to fight for gender equality in sports and beyond.
“She will be greatly missed,” Burke said. “The way we can remember her best is to keep the efforts going forward in her honor and her memory.”
Emilee White is the editorial and marketing manager for GoodSport, a media company dedicated to raising the visibility of women and girls in sports.