Unequal Equals

How do I say this without offending someone? I probably can’t.

Back in the 70’s, women’s sports were getting some footing underneath them. My southern Ohio high school didn’t have any women’s sports teams until a few years after I had graduated from high school. Girls were shuttled into either the cheerleading squad or as one of the band’s majorettes. For many of them popularity was a determining factor on their election to one of those two groups, not athletic ability or talent in twirling a baton.

But then women’s sports emerged. There was still the sugar-coating of it, most noticeably in the differing of the school mascot’s name. The boys were Tigers, but the girls were Tiger Kittens, Dragons became Lady Dragons, Bulldogs became Lady Bulldogs. It was as if there was a need to differentiate between the ferociousness of the boys’ competitive natures and the girls’ femininity wrapped up in athletic gear.

Strides were made. Title 9 brought equality in the offering and administering of men’s and women’s athletic opportunities, although at the college level there remained great disparity in coaching salaries and funding.

In a November 21, 2021 article written for the YWCA Website by Sara Baker, the author revisits the purpose of Title 9:

The importance of Title IX is not simply how many girls are playing sports, however; it’s what they get out of those opportunities. Studies highlighted by the The New York Times reveal that girls’ participation in sports leads to increases in women’s education and employment rates and decreases in women’s obesity rates. Girls who play sports are less likely to experience teen pregnancy and depression and more likely to experience academic success, high self-esteem, and positive body image.

This summer Title 9 is now 50 years in the rearview mirror and there is the new twist to the plot that has left many people shaking their heads and others applauding its arrival. Transgender athletes are being welcomed into competitions that had previously been open only to an athlete’s gender by birth. Suddenly, the spotlight has redshifted from the women competing to the transgender athlete who is re-identifying as a female. There may have been more media coverage of the recent NCAA Winning and Diving Championships because of one transgender swimmer (although two competed) than there had ever been news reports coming out of the competition. The podium picture of the top finishers in the 500 yard freestyle gave visual support to the disparity.

And yet, supporters of transgender athletes see inclusion as a victory for equality. There have been several cases where the top women finishers in track and swimming events have gone to a lower step on the podium because of a transgender athlete who has displaced them.

The statement that gets spoken more and more is that everyone has the right to participate and compete. That is 100% true, but is an equal playing field being thrown out in the meantime. For instance, The University of Connecticut women’s basketball team often practices against a team of former high school boys’ basketball players who now attend U-Conn. It offers a high degree of competition for one of the premier women’s teams in the nation. There is an evident intentional attempt to help the U-Conn women practice against the best their college can offer, male players who are not quite at the level of the U-Conn men’s team members.

It is a confusing time that is still not clearly defined. People who don’t understand it are frequently labeled as not in touch in the times, biased, and old school conservatives. Bottom line, it’s simply hard to understand, especially when framed in the same picture as the benefits of Title 9 from 1972.

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