Makhaela Jenkins, a twelve-year old girl in the Liberty Union school district, attended football practice with the boys until she was recently told she could not play. The district considers football and wrestling contact sports and prohibits girls from participating.
“I don’t think it’s fair,” Makhaela, who also goes by Max, said Thursday. “People should be able to play no matter what their gender.”
As we’ve seen, women can be quite successful in contact sports. Women have successfully competed at the Olympic level in boxing, wrestling, and taekwondo. Women kickbox. And now that Dana White has shifted his position, women are getting more opportunities to compete in professional mixed martial arts.
But these women don’t compete with the guys.
From a practical standpoint, what does she expect will happen in regards to the locker room situation? Does she expect her own locker room? I doubt anyone involved expects her to change with the boys.
Physically, there gets to be a point where the boys will out-develop her and she simply won’t be capable of playing with them. They’ll be faster and stronger than she is. And as a wide receiver, the position she plays, it doesn’t matter how many times she hits the gym, she can’t afford to have that disadvantage going into the game.
But more importantly, gender does matter. Boys and girls are different, and the message we send when we tell them otherwise serves only to confuse them. Boys are conditioned, or should be conditioned, that men don’t hit women. They’re conditioned to be respectful. And as we’ve seen in wrestling, there is the very real issue that some boys will not want to touch a girl in contact sports. That shouldn’t keep the boys from playing a boy’s sport.
I’ve been there. In a jiu jitsu tournament I participated in several years ago, there were three adult men in my weight class. Since there weren’t enough spots to fill various other divisions with similar weights, the organizers dumped three teenagers, including a girl, into my division. I walked off the mat rather than fight a girl, because the reality is that no matter how tough she thought she was, a sixteen or even twenty year old girl isn’t going to be as strong as a grown man.
In some ways I feel sorry for Makhaela. There aren’t many successful collegiate-level female football players, let alone pro players in the NFL or CFL, and the current league for women is more about looks and sex than football. However, constantly blurring gender lines and ignoring the very real issues which come with girls mixing it up with boys in traditionally boys sports is not the solution.
And for all those about to pounce on me for being a chauvinist, tell me, how would you really feel about a boy wanting to play on a girl’s volleyball team? Or field hockey? Soccer? Lacrosse? How many of you sincerely feel that it would be acceptable for a boy to play on a girls’ team at this level if there were no opportunities for him to play with the boys? How many of you would suggest that he was too physically different or that it’s “just not the same thing”?
In 2012, Jenson Daniel, a seventeen year-old boy, was denied the right to play on his high school’s volleyball team because his results on the long jump, arm hang, and 1.5 mile run showed that he was “too strong” to play on a girls’ team. Title IX applies to both men and women, and yet when a boy wants to play the sport he loves but can only play on the girls’ team, we want to deny him that right because of the real physical differences between boys and girls.
Just as recently as May of this year, The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association was taking the position that allowing boys to play girls’ field hockey “denies opportunities for girls, creates a competitive advantage and increases the risk for injury”, among other issues. According to the PIAA, about 38 schools reported boys playing on girls’ field hockey teams; 14 schools reported boys playing on girls’ volleyball teams, eight playing on girls’ lacrosse, five for soccer, one each for tennis and swimming. However, women’s’ athletic advocacy groups around the country are denying that Title IX should apply equally to boys and girls, in large part based on the physical issues and risk of injury to girls. But when a girl wants to play football, they pretend there is no risk for injury or physical differences.
That’s the real problem here. Women want the opportunity to play with the boys, but when boys want the same opportunity to play a sport they love, the women’s groups invoke physical differences. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t try to dismantle boys’ teams and then tell the boys they can’t play with the girls.