Gender only complicates fairness in sport
With most Americans – except for some “men, heterosexuals, older generations, those without a college education, Republicans, Christians, and rural residents” – now supporting the idea that athletes should be able to compete as whatever gender they prefer, according to the Sociology of Sport Journal, maybe the time has come to chuck the whole, old, male-female classification in sport.
Let’s start by accepting that in the natural order, one of the few givens is that life ain’t fair. One day you’re a perfectly healthy moose chomping on some tasty willows, and the next your meat for the grizzly bear who snuck up on you when you weren’t paying attention.
As humans, however, we can’t stop trying to do better than nature. So we come up with all sorts of rules to make life more fair.
Categorizing participation by male-female body parts was one of our first attempts to make sports fair, but the separation is really unfair to everyone, not to mention those who identify as LGBTQI+.
As an aside, the + always left me confused, but the U.S. State Department website ShareAmerica tells me it is those “people who do not identify as either men or women and includes individuals who are attracted to many genders or to individuals regardless of gender. It also includes those who experience little to no sexual attraction to others and those who do not experience romantic attraction.”
How those who are attracted to everyone get lumped in with those who are attracted to no one is a little baffling, but that’s off track.
So let’s get back to the fundamental issue of fairness, which is what all real Americans want or should want.
And sports in this country today just aren’t fair.
How many 5-foot, 4-inch men do you see getting scholarships to play college basketball, though women’s college hoops welcomes quite a few of the little people.
High school football, meanwhile, isn’t available to most girls because most schools lack real football teams (ie. tackle football) for girls
And in a society defined in many ways by male and female, an entity named the “boys” team does not seem the most welcoming environment for average “girls.”
Girls versus boys
Then there’s the “balance beam” in gymnastics on which males are not allowed to compete no matter how balanced and graceful they might be.
This, according to a report in Bustle, a “women’s magazine, “likely has something to do with the way men and women are generally built, as well as the differences in athletes’ bodies when gymnastic rules were being written….
“Because women generally carry their weight in their lower bodies, an apparatus like the balance beam would have been better suited for them. Men, on the other hand, (generally) have greater upper body strength, so events like the rings and high bar were more aligned with what officials believed their bodies could do.”
So if you’re a puny up top guy with a big bottom but a great sense of balance, you’re pretty well SOL in gymnastics. And with that physique, you’re not going to cut it on the rings or the high bar.
Either your weight will make your grip fail, or if your grip is strong enough, your arms might be jerked right off your body.
Welcome to a world where life just ain’t fair. But we can make it more fair.
There are precedents. A lot of sports – running, cycling, Nordic skiing and more – already take into account major physiological differences by establishing age-class standards.
Sure, the open class remains the open class where anyone can compete. Well, except for that male-female thing. But there are age groupings so runners can test themselves against those of similar ages. The same for Nordic skiers.
The latter’s groupings start at under six (U6) – for skiers ages four and five – progress at two-year increments through the U20s, lump the 20 to 29 year olds in the “seniors” class, and then start a whole new group of “masters” at age 30.
Those run from the M1s, age 30-34, all the way up to the M11s for those 80 to 84. If you’re still skiing competitively at that age, you’ve earned your way into that uniquely American category where everyone deserves to win.
And Americans love to win.
All about winning
We wouldn’t be having a debate about transgender sports participation in this country if everyone loved to lose, would we?
Losers don’t generate “news” in America.
How many stories have you read about Johnnie Q, formerly Susie Q, losing another marathon, swim meet, local 10K, whatever?
The females who transitioned to males are out there. Schuyler Bailar went from male to female and became the first transgender athlete in any sport to compete on an NCAA Division 1 men’s team in 2015.
“In 2019, his final 100-yard breaststroke time ranked him in the top 15 percent of all NCAA men’s swims for the season,” according to Wikipedia.
That sounds pretty good, but according to Harvard, Schulyer “posted (his) team’s third-best 100 breast time (56.96) of the season…(and) turned in a season-best time of 2:06.24 in the 200 breast” in 2019.
Cal’s Andrew Seliskar that year won the NCAA Division I Men’s breast in a time of 1:48.70. Seventeen seconds is an eternity when watching swimmers come down their lanes.
Had Schulyer remained female, he would have been a lot closer to Indiana’s Lilly King, who won the woman’s 200 breast in 2:02.90 in 2019.
The times of Seliskar and King, a two-time Olympian, nicely illustrate the inherent athletic advantage or disadvantage determined by one’s sex at birth. Simply put, there are undeniable differences between biological men and biological women.
These differences should not, however, define who gets to compete against whom in sports.
Height, weight, body fat percentage, testosterone levels, V02 max, physiological efficiency, technique and more play roles in athletic performance, and all of these things can now be measured.
There is no need for sex to enter athletics anymore.
It is possible to rank athletes purely on the physical/physiological traits that would put them in various classes, say expert, pro, advanced amateur, amateur, intermediate and beginner.
Then it would be up to the mental state of each competitor to determine who wins, and mental states are not to be underestimated. There have been a lot of sporting events won by athletes who might have been somewhat lacking in physical/physiological capabilities but more than made up for it with mental capabilities.
Quarterback Tom Brady, the GOAT, comes immediately to mind. There are and have been plenty of quarterbacks bigger, faster and possessed of greater arm strength, but most of them never won a Super Bowl let alone seven.
Among football quarterbacks, Brady is just fit enough and lean enough and endowed with enough God-given physical talent to squeeze into an elite class of quarterbacks, and there, well, his record says it all.
Sports structured so that athletes of like abilities – no matter their sex – compete against athletes of similar abilities would be far fairer to everyone, not just LGBTQI+ athletes, and the system could be set up to ferret out the inevitable sandbaggers, those who play down their abilities to try to match themselves against weaker competition to ensure they win.
It sounds pretty complicated, but it’s rather simple. And it works to ensure like competes against like, which is the definition of fairness.
There’s no reason this could not work in all sports.
What one would do about the Olympics, which is mired in the old sexual stereotypes, is hard to say, but maybe the best athletic specimens could be in the B Class, likely to include a fair number of women, and the best of the best could be moved to the BB Class, likely to be dominated by men, simply give the basic physical/physiological difference between the sexes no matter how modern medicine might have permitted humans to alter body parts.
Where LGBTQI+ athletes would fall in those rankings is impossible to say, but it wouldn’t matter because the new classes of competitors would no longer be defined by sex or gender but by ability.
Then we could call this little offshoot of the American culture war over.
There have been throughout time women who’ve felt trapped in the bodies of men and vice versa, and we should all be thankful that modern medicine has a fix for them. We can only wish that the people who govern sports could establish a level playing field for all after modern medicine does its thing.