By Robert Scott
All writers in Op Ed are here to inform and acknowledge issues of importance to our communities, however these writings represent the views and opinions of the authors and not necessarily of The Advertiser.
In the collegiate sports world, this is the season for March Madness – when serious sports fans haven’t yet switched over to golf and the Augusta National, but instead are watching the grueling, single elimination tournaments within the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) at several levels, for both men’s and women’s basketball. This year, one of the top seeds is the University of South Carolina women’s team who, as of this writing, are still in the tournament, in the “Sweet Sixteen” and headed, one hopes, to the Final Four next week. None of the South Carolina men’s teams have progressed that far in their tournaments.
Women’s sports are growing in popularity, and they appear to be headed for another growth year. For the past several years more college students have been women than men, so it only makes sense that women’s teams are in the ascendancy. And yet in various state legislatures, including ours in Columbia, there have been strident calls to ‘Save Women’s Sports.’ Save it from what? Unfortunately, here is what these calls have NOT addressed: “We demand equal resources for women’s sports, equal media coverage for games, and equal pay for women coaches!” Women athletes have fought for those things for years – think Megan Rapinoe, Billie Jean King, Candace Parker – with but little success. No, the perceived threat to women’s sports equality this March is none of these. Instead, it is that women who are transgender somehow will skew women’s sports in an unfair way.
One writer who has addressed this is Lindsay Crouse, whose video series “Equal Play” has helped to increase the spotlight on women’s sports. In a recent OpEd in the New York Times, Ms. Crouse wrote that “this conversation is disingenuous, patronizing, and often racist. Using our struggle to score political points is a distraction.” Transgender women are very small in number, and those who are exceptional in sports are scarcer still. If a transgender woman wins a contest, you can be sure it will make the news, in part because it is so rare; but those whose politics are based on excluding people who are “different from you and me” will ensure it makes headlines, not to celebrate that woman’s achievement, but instead to imply she is somehow a cheat.
Legislation banning transgender girls and women from participating in school athletics was enacted this year in Mississippi and in Idaho, not two of the most progressive states in the union. The bad news is that similar legislation was also introduced in Columbia this year; the good news is that it failed. Restricting who can participate in sports is rarely a good idea, and fairness should be looked at for individuals based on their athletic ability, not based on prejudice.
“Fairness in Women’s Sports” ought to be about increasingvisibility, treatment, and rewards for women’s athletics in K-12 schools, in colleges and universities, and in professional sports including not just basketball but also golf and tennis. Having the political focus for women’s sports rest on a very small number of transgender athletes with a view to exclusion is not “Fairness,” it is “Unfairness.” That, indeed, is March Madness.