A Slippery Slope in Sports

            If you read this column on occasion, you have learned that I love baseball. Few things bring me as much comfort or joy as the greatest game.

            My attention was drawn to a story in this paper last week about a high school student at a Berkshire League school who is the starting designated hitter. It is a ho-hum story until you discover that the player described is a girl in her junior year at the school.

            It is certainly unusual for girls to be playing competitive baseball at the high school level. Earlier this year, a young woman who attends Brown University became the first woman to play Division I collegiate baseball.

            It makes sense to me that girls are able to play competitive baseball at higher levels these days. Certainly training and instruction have allowed all players with talent to advance their skills and compete.

            From my perspective, if the girls can help their high schools win games and contribute, then they belong on the team.

            While I am a supporter, I am not an enthusiastic supporter. Here’s why: single-sex clubs serve an important social function for those who participate. They create opportunities for learning, growth, and vulnerability among members that don’t exist when the opposite sex is brought into the mix. This is not to say that mixed-sex clubs don’t present opportunities for growth, learning, and vulnerability. But the opportunities are different.

            Participation by the opposite sex changes the dynamic in those instances when boys should feel safe being boys and girls should feel safe being girls.

            Take, for example, college sororities. These all-women clubs provide women with opportunities to grow and learn from each other in a safe environment away from the judgment and differing standards of men. Bringing women together in a supportive environment has been shown to be empowering for women in a way that is not available to them in mixed-gender organizations.

            While all-male organizations are often faulted for engaging in misogynistic behaviors, it can be argued that the type of dysfunction results from the standards and leadership of the group and not from the construction of the membership of the organization.

            If talented girls are allowed to play on boys’ teams, what will stop talented boys from playing on girls’ teams? Suppose a group of boys chose to play girls’ softball in the spring season because they found it more enjoyable as a sport. Could a school board legitimately prohibit their participation while simultaneously allowing a girl or two to play baseball?

            The slippery slope leads to the inevitable result that gender-specific sports go away and any student should be allowed to participate in any sport provided their talent merits participation.

            And maybe that is where our values are taking us. Perhaps the desire for equity as a core American value means that distinctions based on immutable characteristics no longer matter. I am not sure that this isn’t the way it should be.

            But I believe that we lose a part of our humanity when we fail to acknowledge the differences that exist between men and women. It is the differences that make us special. Refusing to acknowledge those differences makes us duller, less interesting, and probably bleaker.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: