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The Double Standard in Women’s Athletics

The sweat saturated her shirt, and rolled off of her as she stood, gulping air after a half-mile sprint under the blazing sun. Conditioning drills were in full swing on this humid summer day as the girls geared up for another high school season. Recruiting videos were shot and edited, in preparation for the college coaches who would be at each competition. Every girl at this level had the same dreams, but only a fraction of them would fulfill them by competing in college. Each one was looking for an advantage by training harder or smarter, or learning a new technique to help her improve. But a few of their competitors had a different kind of advantage. Some of those girls were boys.

This tired, sweaty girl could be your daughter, your niece or granddaughter. Maybe she’s your sister. Maybe she is you. She might play basketball, tennis or volleyball. Or maybe she runs track like Selina Soule, Alanna Smith and Chelsea Mitchell, three high school athletes who filed a lawsuit against the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) for allowing transgender athletes to compete against girls in high school events.

Terry Miller and Adraya Yearwood, two transgender athletes who were born male but have recently competed in female track events, have dominated the sport in Connecticut for the last couple years. Since 2017, they have combined to win 15 indoor and outdoor championship events. Before these two biological males began competing against girls, those same titles were held by ten different female athletes. Miller and Yearwood have displaced girls on the winner’s podium and it’s only natural to assume they could do the same on a college roster if given the chance.

Only seven percent of high school athletes go on to play their sport in college. It’s a select few, all of whom practice and train for years, out-performing nearly all their same-gendered peers. Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 was put in place to ensure that females receive the same opportunities and protections as males in any publicly-funded educational activity. It reads:

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972

This passage has been applied by high school and college athletics associations, most notably the NCAA, to ensure equal participation opportunities for female athletes to those of males. It doesn’t mean there will be a girls’ team and a boys’ team for every sport, but it does mean that athletic teams, scholarships, facilities, practice time and other benefits afforded to athletes be equitable for males and females, relative to their level of enrollment. More or less, Title IX ensures that women will have as many opportunities to participate in college and high school sports as men do. When you start letting men (even those identifying as women) participate in women’s events, you are displacing women at the expense of men, and – in my view – violating the spirit of Title IX.

On the other hand, those who support letting transgender athletes who are biological males compete against females, interpret Title IX as offering them protection as well. I would agree, if those athletes were being denied the opportunity to participate in athletics, or being forced to participate against genetically superior athletes. They are not. So the debate boils down to wording, and ultimately to the definition of “male” or “female.”

Last month, Judge Robert Chatigny, presiding over the Connecticut lawsuit, told the plaintiffs’ attorney that he must refer to the biologically male athletes referenced in the court proceeding as “transgender females.” The attorney, Roger Brooks, pushed back. His argument was:

The entire focus of the case is the fact that the CIAC policy allows individuals who are physiologically, genetically male to compete in girls’ athletics. But if I use the term “females” to describe those individuals — and we’ve said in our opening brief, we’re happy to use their preferred names, because names are not the point to the case. Gender identity is not the point of this case. The point of this case is physiology of bodies driven by chromosomes and the documented athletic advantage that comes from a male body, male hormones, and male puberty in particular. So, Your Honor, I do have a concern that I am not adequately representing my client and I’m not accurately representing their position in this case as it has to be argued before Your Honor and all the way up if I refer to these individuals as “female,” because that’s simply, when we’re talking about physiology, that’s not accurate, at least in the belief of my clients.

Roger Brooks, attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom, the organization suing the CIAC on behalf of three female athletes

They compromised and Brooks referred to the two athletes as “transgender.” But Brooks summed up some irrefutable facts about the transgender athletes: they are “physiologically, genetically male,” and there is abundant evidence that proves the post-pubescent male body has greater muscle mass, larger and more dense bones, greater lung capacity and a larger heart than its female counterpart.

It may be true that these athletes identify as girls, wish they were girls, plan to transform their bodies into those of girls, or otherwise feel like girls. Nobody should begrudge them those feelings or ambitions, despite personal objections, difference of opinion and despite the fact that they are not actually girls. They should not be discriminated against by not being allowed to play competitive sports. In fact, we should fight equally for their right to compete on a level playing field just like that of traditional male and female athletes. However, allowing them to compete against girls, in sports not categorized as “co-ed,” clearly puts most girls at a disadvantage. To be sure, that is not true 100% of the time. There are likely a good many transgender athletes who don’t dominate their sport, or who maybe just aren’t that good. But disproportionately, they do excel because biologically, they are differently equipped – better equipped – than a female to compete in a given sport.

Idaho recently enacted a law protecting the rights of female athletes to compete against female athletes. The Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, signed into law earlier this year, prohibits transgender athletes (generally a male identifying as female) from competing in women’s athletic competitions. The law is being challenged by civil rights groups, which have apparently prioritized the rights of a very small fraction of athletes (transgender ones) over the rights of a much larger population of athletes (female ones).

A potential solution is to create a third division for transgender athletes. Sure, the numbers would be low, but if these athletes are set on competing as a gender other than what they were biologically assigned, this could be an option. Alternatively, the only fair thing is to require that they compete with athletes of the same gender. Otherwise, we as a society are pivoting to such an extreme position as to deny the most obvious scientific facts about the human body. Appeasing transgender athletes in this way is perhaps the greatest example of a warped desire for political correctness eclipsing any understanding of fairness and logic. Doing so would send a message to girls that took centuries to overcome: that they and their ambitions are secondary to that of boys.

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