Growing up, it was always supposed to be fun to make fun of the opposite sex. Taunts were always thrown around on the schoolyard: you smell like a boy, girls are weak, etc. “Girls go to college to get more knowledge, boys go to Jupiter to get more stupider!” For any “Sandlot” fans, there’s always the classic Ham Porter line, “You play ball like a girl!”
But as athletes grow up they, like all of us, are forced to contend with a brand new concept: gender. To put it as simply as possible in one sentence, sex is biological and gender is socially constructed.
Ham’s, ”You play ball like a girl!” is a classic line that unfortunately resonates with many young athletes. There’s always a preconceived notion that men are bigger, faster, stronger. Physical attributes are only half of the true value of an athlete; skill and performance are the real gauges. The only important question bringing someone onto a team is, “Can you help me win?”
There have been defining moments in sports that could have broken apart Ham’s schoolyard slight. Pam Reed won the Badwater Ultramarathon in 2002, 2003 and 2005, a 135 mile race. In 2002 Reed finished four hours ahead of any other competitor, male or female. There’s the infamous Battle of the Sexes tennis match where Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs. Recently Mo’ne Davis, Ham’s exact antithesis, pitched a shutout in the Little League World series and had an average fastball of 70 MPH. The equivalent reaction time translated to a full-sized MLB diamond is similar to a 93 MPH fastball.
What happens when gender becomes a part of the question? And what about when it’s a boy competing against girls instead of a girl competing against boys? Just last week Mack Beggs, a transgender boy, won the Texas wrestling state championships for his weight division, but competed against girls. The Texas’ University Interscholastic League (UIL) rules that a competitor must compete in the same division as the sex listed on one’s birth certificate. Beggs has been taking testosterone during this time of transition, which the parents of opposing wrestlers have used that as the main point of their argument, questioning the legitimacy of Beggs’ title. Every match he won during his undefeated season has been met with a mix of boos and cheers, but he never let it phase him. He just wants to wrestle, whether it’s against boys or girls.
Many pin the blame on the UIL for establishing Texas’ birth certificate standard, which went into effect in August of 2016, and defined all student athletes to the gender assigned to them at birth. Beggs’ and his family claim they expressed their interest in competing in the boy’s division, but Deputy Director Jamey Harrison denies receiving the request. Harrison believes the championship outcome to be fair and that any issues aren’t a product of UIL rules. The UIL doesn’t plan on changing the rule anytime soon, since 95 percent of the school superintendents ruled in favor of the birth certificate rule.
All of this is amid the growth of support for transgender people’s right to use their preferred gender bathroom. What was once fully supported by the Obama administration is now on the backburner with the current commander-in-chief.
Many continue to have sex and gender at the forefront of concern when it comes to bathrooms, sports, or the workplace. Although as a society we’ve made strides for equality and acceptance, it seems we’re regressing bit by bit at a social and institutional level. Let’s hope that the University of San Francisco and the Bay Area continue to make steps towards being a haven of peace, a voice of reason, and an agent of change.