• Joanne Jacobs

Biology denial: Girls can't win if sports go coed

I was forced to take four years of P.E. in high school in the late '60s. Illinois' gym teachers had a great lobby. Only three years of English, two of math, two of science and one of social studies was required. I did field hockey, but no physics. (I won the National Council of Teachers of English contest with an essay titled Confessions of a Physically Educated Woman about my hatred of field hockey.)


But Illinois had banned competitive sports for girls. Because . . . The gym teacher tried to explain it, but was too embarrassed. We gathered it had something to do with the risk of girls being hit on the breasts with basketballs, which would cause . . . It was unclear. But we didn't really care. Sports were for boys.

This photo of Lia Thomas winning the national championship in swimming prompted a wave of legislation barring biological males from competing on women's teams. Photo: NBC News

The Atlantic published a bizarre article, The Case for Coed Sports, calling for abandoning the "gender binary" in competitive sports. Girls and boys would compete together in football, basketball, soccer, track, etc. proposes Maggie Mertens.


"Maintaining this binary in youth sports reinforces the idea that boys are inherently bigger, faster, and stronger than girls in a competitive setting -- a notion that’s been challenged by scientists for years," she writes.


Is she talking about little kids? Once puberty kicks in, males are bigger, faster and stronger.


"Though sex differences in sports show advantages for men, researchers today still don’t know how much of this to attribute to biological difference versus the lack of support provided to women athletes to reach their highest potential," Mertens writes.


Is it 99 percent biology or only 98 percent?


Mertens suggests separating players by size rather than sex to avoid injuries in contact sports. That's done in wrestling, and some teams have gone coed. However, a new high school sports survey linked the surge in female wrestlers to the option to compete on girls' teams: 32 states now offer separate wrestling championships for girls.


If all high school and college sports were coed, if the most dedicated female athletes had to compete against dedicated male athletes, how many girls would have a chance to win?


The Atlantic has succumbed to "magical thinking," writes Joan Smith, a British journalist, on Unherd. Sports are "the frontline of a battle over biological sex."


Competitions could offer male, female and open categories, she writes. But gender extremists don't want that. Their aim is "eliminating single-sex spaces — sorry, I mean challenging the strict gender binary."


Track, volleyball, soccer and basketball are the most popular sports for high school girls, according to the survey. For boys, the most popular are football, track, basketball and baseball.


At the Olympic level, men and women compete against each other only in equestrian sports and sailing. I won a trophy in a sailing regatta when I was a teenager in part because the boys competing were younger and smaller and couldn't keep their boats upright when the wind picked up in one of the races. In addition, my team mate and I knew our flag signals, so we realized the committee boat had signaled a course change.


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