Life After Lax: Rachael Rollins, a U.S. Attorney Inspired by Title IX

This story appears in the May/June edition of USA Lacrosse Magazine. Join our momentum.

Rachael Rollins was just a freshman in college when she had to defend her right to compete under Title IX.

When UMass announced in 1990 that it would cut its women’s lacrosse program following the season, Rollins, who was on a lacrosse scholarship, sprung into action. She organized a team of athletes — and eventually, a lawyer — to pressure the athletic director into reinstating the team. After a two-year hiatus, the Minutewomen were back on the lacrosse field in 1993.

Now Rollins is the U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, the first Black woman to serve as the top federal prosecutor in the state. Her role in the fight to reinstate UMass women’s lacrosse sparked an interest in law.

After graduating from UMass in 1994, Rollins attended law school at Northeastern, eventually becoming the district attorney for Suffolk County, home to her native Cambridge, Mass.

Was law school part of your plan heading into college?

It was not part of my plan heading into college. What sparked my interest? Actually, it was the Title IX lawsuit — or, the threat of a Title IX lawsuit. We found out at the end of the season that they were going to cut the women’s lacrosse team. After a couple months, we heard they did this to women’s volleyball and women’s tennis. We asked to speak to the athletic director, and he had no time for us. We ended up getting a lawyer, and miraculously, he had time. Under the mere threat of a Title IX lawsuit, we were able to get all three teams reinstated. And that was the moment that I knew I wanted to be a lawyer.

When you were fighting that battle while you were still a student, did you ever think that you would end up as a U.S. attorney?

Oh my God, no. I just thought, “What an amazing tool the law is. How powerful is it that words — written words — can make people change their actions before you even go in front of a judge?” It was just something I wanted to learn more about.

What lessons did you take from your legal fight to get your team back on the field?

Getting the teams reinstated, usually everyone cheers and that’s where the story ends. But that first year, we went zero and everything (0-8 in 1993). Everyone can be positive when things are going great. Who are you when things are really hard? Do you show up every day and put a smile on your face and still give that 100-percent effort? I was the proud captain of both of those teams (1993 and 1994) that, as far as the scoreboard went, were not winning teams. But we had character, we had grit and we had strong work ethic.

Have you connected with the team since you graduated?

I’ve spoken with them, not just about my lacrosse experience, but they also know I’m a lawyer. They’ve called me, and I spoke to the team about some hard things. After the George Floyd murder, they had a lot of questions, and we were able to have a confidential private conversation where I said, “Look, we are sisters. I know we might not look like each other, but I feel like I wore that same uniform, and even though we haven’t met yet, we share something together because I was in your shoes many years ago. Ask me any questions.” We are only going to move forward in this country if we can start having honest and truthful conversations with each other.

What does it feel like to try a high-profile case in front of a packed courtroom?

The feeling you get right before a game starts where you have butterflies, I was really worried that I was never going to feel that way after I graduated college. And then I became a lawyer, and I started trying cases, and I felt that same sort of competitive spirit and work ethic percolate again when I was in the courtroom.

Who are some of your inspirations in women’s sports?

I will sit and watch TV with tears rolling down my eyes when I see how exceptional women’s soccer is — Megan Rapinoe and the fight that they’ve had to get equal pay. Simone Biles, Serena Williams, Abby Wambach — they’re just players out there that are changing the game. Period. Title IX in my day and age was about equity in sports and making sure that women’s athletics had the same funding as men’s athletics, or the same opportunities. We still have work to do, but I’m very, very proud of where we are.


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