More fair!

One who knows gender-related sports performance, Caitlyn Jenner, the former Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner/Wikimedia Commons

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

Yes, some females are on the “boy’s” team at some schools, but they are a tiny minority – about 0.32 percent of all players, according to the numbers at Statista.

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.

Few noticed.

“Schuyler’s difficult choice – to transition while potentially giving up the prospect of being a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) champion – was historic,” he says on his website.

“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.

USA Cycling already employs such a system with competitors classed as Cat. 5, beginner, through Cat. 1, elite. Getting moved up or doing in the rankings depends on racing performance.

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.











24 replies »

  1. At least Bruce Jenner was man enough or talented enough to compete and win against other men, unlike these complete hacks of today who find ways to compete against women, then pretend like they did something really special by setting new records or punching the crap out of some real lady boxer.

  2. We can solve all this sports stuff, but that doesn’t deal with the underlying problem that unscrupulous people will always be gaming the system to their own advantage. The solutions suggested will create more opportunities for the bad guys.
    Example: The male sex offenders after conviction claiming transition to female and successfully getting into women’s prisons, where they will find women in a situation where they are unable to defend themselves from the offender.
    The idealistic solutions to this “problem” require the denial of human nature to work. New problems are being created for women that are worse than the problems supposedly solved for the alphabet people.
    Why does this all remind me of a dog chasing its tail.

    Also, if sports are divided by performance levels, the money will always flow to the highest level. The high level will be the one broadcast and that will be where the revenue, facilities and scholarships are. In most sports, the vast majority of women will be 2 or 3 levels below level one. They will be mostly shut out of the scholarships and revenue streams.
    You will never see a female tennis player on a broadcast because there are thousands of male tennis players that can defeat the top women.
    These well-intentioned attempts to create a perfect system will likely replace a pretty good system with one that is worse.

  3. Is it fair? Is it rational and logical?
    Surprised you did not quote Potter Stuart.
    “I can’t define it but I know it when I see it.”
    In the end we will defer to cultural consensus. That doesn’t mean discussion is futile.
    I hoped you would tell us Caitlyn Jennings take on the subject.

  4. Seems to me there are 2 types of trans. The athletes are opportunists. The others have issues between the ears.

  5. Scott Adams (the cnx Dilbert guy) has a reframe on the question. Perhaps it is sports itself that is broken.

    An alternate approach would be to divide participants by ability rather than sex. We kind of do it already with Special Olympics. Pro level would be mostly men. Semi-pro level of sports would have more women. Club level would be mixed. There are probably others, but you get the idea.

    Some sports (Iditarod, for instance) have little variation based on sex, though men mostly win and participate these days. Other sports (football, basketball, hockey, soccer, weightlifting, etc) have massive variations in ability based on sex.

    Maybe there’s another way to do this. Cheers –

    • I think you are on the right track but stopped short. The model is para-olympics. Forget zero sum games. Leave the traditional definitions in traditional event/venues intact or subject only to incremental changes. Create new classes of competition in new or peripheral venues. Trans women, Trans men.
      Justice, fairness serve to protect the innocent, not to punish the guilty.

  6. If you can choose your gender……….can you also choose your race? Open up the market to some of those affirmative action goodies.

  7. Craig, you are just trying to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. We have two groups in America that cannot even agree on “What is a Woman”. People with such different world views should not be creating laws for each other. They need to be in separate countries. The question is how will that be peacefully accomplished?

    • We have people that can’t even agree if their is a higher being or if we should go to war in SE Asia, Iraq, etc. Arguable what makes our country great is the diversity of views and the ability to be understanding of different views even if we don’t understand them.

      edit- The courts can’t decide what an adult is….should we split at the seams?

      • The United States was a defacto Christian Nationalist state , the differences was in the size and scope of government Democrats big , Republicans small . Now American society is fundamentally bifurcated. We can not agree when human life begins, if children should choose their gender, if people can freely cross your border, if government can coerce you to be vaccinated, if mail in elections are legitimate, can humanity cause global warming, should citizens own firearms , whether white people are inherently racist, or even what is a woman. People with such fundamental differences should not govern each other.

    • No peaceful solution in sight to what America has become…
      Shelves full of Chinese crap, no manufacturing, forever proxy wars around the globe, imbecile in WH, we are a dying empire at this point.

  8. If you can choose your gender, why can’t you choose your age? Your race or weight or eye color?

    • Because people are not choosing their gender, just as folks are not choosing their sexual orientation. Why is that so difficult to understand? But I see the classic false arguments being presented. It is fine if you hate gay folk and genders, but why not just admit it? Then at least we can have a mature discussion.

      • Jeff you are not well informed.

        You- Trying to claim someone is a gay hater because they have a different perspective is abusive , semi violent, slanderous and frankly often wrong. ( by wrongly labeling people as haters you are bringing hateful feelings into the world or conversation)
        Your non acceptance of opinion is equally or way worse than someone not understanding why someone chooses to be gay . Your stance is unequal treatment of logic or just hypocritical.

        Many of us love gay people in a platonic way yet still don’t understand the decision to act on same sex attraction. Perhaps we don’t have a full understanding.
        There is a lot of stuff people feel like doing that you just shouldn’t.

        Personally I think gays ect should go for it . Whatever floats their boat . Just don’t abuse other people in the process. When a man decides he is female ( through analysis of his feelings) it doesn’t mean he should take advantage of females in any form. Be it disturbing their privacy in a bathroom or be it using evolution given musculature to beat anatomical females in sports .
        That is not honorable regardless of sex .
        You take care of your fellow man before yourself.
        Be it by respect of others feelings in a bathroom or be it in competition. You assist to even the field the best possible. Such is generally what being “sporting” – sportsman is about.
        If you forgo that act of honor , then winning becomes meaningless and it becomes no holds barred.
        Right down to annihilating your opponent or taking a jet.
        If you want to play unfair then play unfair.

        God forbid if i went through an identity change permit me the strength to live life with honor and wisdom to not disturb opposite anatomical sex individuals by the presence of my fatefully large appendages, im sure I would be strong enough to use the anatomically correct bathroom/ shower ect , despite being around guys.
        Same goes for sporting events. May i be mentally strong enough I wouldn’t need to take advantage of anatomical women when my body was fit for male competition.
        Anything less is disrespectful to my fellow human beings.
        Our society can’t survive or progress without respect , honor and wisdom.
        When protecting one group of people we have to be careful not to abuse another.
        It serves little purpose to endorse improper treatment of one another regardless of lifestyle choices.
        Or regardless of differences in opinion because frankly we don’t understand what the truth is regarding sexual orientation. Gender fluid nearly claims that the swing is dependent on choice at any given moment based on feelings . Wth. So yes in some format that means sexual orientation is at least partially choice even if that choice was based on strong feelings. Obviously opinion.
        The way i see life – everything boils down to choice after we become mature enough to recognize we have a choice.
        ( insanity and other reasons may be an exception)

        Disclosure- my gay lgbq relatives and friends are extremely honorable and would never dishonor themselves by being disrespectful to others feelings. They are generally more aware of how others feel.
        Be it in a bathroom setting or sport .
        Obviously could happen by non intention.
        Or by disregarding what should be respect.

        Inflation adjusted 10 cents

      • Knowing both of you guys, I think you’re a lot closer together here than either of you might realize. But given the world we live in today….

        Well, to paraphrase JFK, “ask not what we can agree upon, ask only what we can argue about…..”

  9. “now supporting the idea that athletes should be able to compete as whatever gender they prefer”
    Claiming gender identity is a choice is like those who claimed sexual orientation is a choice. We are more evolved than that type of 1950’s thoughts.

    That said, I agree with the general framework….and at this point in the demise of American health, who cares who competes where, as long as they get some exercise.

  10. Common sense tells you that this will destroy women’s sports as we know it.

    How the expert class of pontificating could miss this consequence is beyond me.

    It takes a special class of morons to destroy all the progress in women’s sports over the last 50 years.

    These folks promoting men competing women’s sports are not experts at all, but simply morons with megaphone.

    Don’t fall for it. Call your Mom. She is truly an expert on this issue.

  11. “……….Then we could call this little offshoot of the American culture war over………..”
    LOL! You’ve missed it. It isn’t about victory in war. It’s about warfare. The war is never over, and nor is any battlefield of the war over. It only grows. It never wanes.
    And that’s what the + represents.

    • OK, Reggie. You got me there. There are some who contend are species is hardwired for war, and they might be right.

      And I must admit that I find it hilarious that some self-described proponents of peace and love appear the most aggressive and warlike among us.

  12. Hilarious but sort of true .
    Rank by general ability to make fair .
    Sort of like odds in betting on horse races but a equality ranking system!

    Im not for it but its a hilarious and functional idea .

    I prefer different classes based on sex/ age but maybe my mind isn’t flexible enough!

    Yep life isn’t fair. We have one difference or another.
    ( a trans person actually told me that)

    Im a stick in the mud I guess. Im for traditional sports division with classes for lgbqt+ ect crowd.

    Isn’t sports partially for the viewers pleasure?

    Awesome outlook mr medred.

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