Commentary

I didn’t see any concerned lawmakers at women’s sports events | Opinion

The fight to bar transgender athletes is nothing more than a flimsy excuse to legalize discrimination

It is estimated that up to 1.8% of youth identify as transgender, and a further 1.6% are questioning or gender diverse. (Photo by Ted Eytan, used through a Creative Commons license by the Daily Montanan).

By Darrell Ehrlick

The game had just ended and it was brutal.

I sat in the stands, and before the players had even cleared the field, head coach Pam McCreesh had already started in on me, yelling from the field, “Nope, no. No. I am not going to talk about it today.”

She was the head coach of the Utah State University women’s softball team and I was the sports reporter assigned to cover them for the local newspaper. The Aggies softball team was absolutely awful and was not helped by playing in a league with many California teams which could spend the year practicing and training in the sun, while the Aggies spent winters indoors.

That season was particularly awful and the women had just set the school record for number of errors in a game.

McCreesh gave me a tongue lashing I still remember about the focus of my coverage being all wrong. I had been writing a wave of stories about the mounting losses and her overmatched team, and she was sick of reading about it in the next day’s paper.

After getting “no commented” for the paper, I trudged back to the office, challenged to find a new way to describe another ugly loss. It’s the sportswriter’s secret that it’s a lot harder to cover a losing team than a winning one. Wins are dramatic, victorious things to be celebrated.

I remember turning away from the interview near second base, and looking back into the stands. I had been the only person there – a point that I didn’t let escape when I groused to my sports editor about sending me to an event that seemed to have so little draw.

Having been a sports reporter, I can tell you that the women work no less hard than their male counterparts, nor are they any less talented. And yet, it’s true then as it is now, crowds tend to be larger at the same sports when they’re played by men than women. I could write volumes on that, but that’s probably best left to experts in gender bias and sports historians.

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That’s why it’s so shocking to me to see so much concern among lawmakers not just in Montana but across the country as they try to put legislation into place to protect women from themselves.

Montana Lawmakers, including Rep. John Fuller, R-Whitefish, want to make sure that the only women playing women’s sports were born biologically female. They’ve outlawed transgender athletes from playing with their female counterparts, arguing that boys who just can’t make the cut on the men’s team would go to all the effort to identify as transgender and play among the women. These same lawmakers who seem so concerned about equity in sports haven’t worried themselves about women making a similar switch to men’s sports.

If women’s sports are of such concern, especially to these lawmakers, why aren’t they filling the stands of women’s athletic events? They seem so worried about the equity and integrity of women’s sports, but can’t be bothered to show up for the game?

The problem becomes – like so many issues today – one of genitalia. When we only worry about body parts, we miss the point of the sports, which is to create community, teamwork and showcase skills. Quite frankly, women’s sports do need more attention and more promotion, but that has nothing to do with body parts and everything to do with double standards. And, believing that women athletes are not strong enough, articulate enough and capable enough to police their own sports is a form of patronizing sexism in itself.

In other words, women’s sports were doing fine without your help, lawmakers. In fact, the problem is that women’s sports have had to make it on their own for so long, it’s jarring and disingenuous to see the concern now.

If lawmakers are serious about making a difference in women’s sports, try boosting scholarships or finding a way to bring parity to the publicity and attention given to women’s sports compared to men’s. If lawmakers are so worried about the competition being so easily overwhelmed that boys can just walk on and compete, maybe that’s really an argument for making women’s sports more robust.

In other words, if you want more women’s sports, stop figuring out who to exclude and do a better job with who to include.

Darrell Ehrlick is editor of the Daily Montanan, a sibling site of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this column first appeared.

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