Opinion: Defending the rights of girls in sports

March 5, 2020

When someone says I run like a girl, I say thank you.

And I think about all the hours of sweat, toil and effort I and many other female athletes have put into our sports, our teams and how lucky we are to have the opportunity to know competition through sport, be it though the many pickup games, intramural, club, JV, varsity and elite athletic training I and others have experienced. I think about Title IX and what a milestone that was across college campuses to ensure equal access to sport. I think about how Title IX was still rolling out when I competed in college, and about the U.S. women’s soccer team who only last year made international headlines in their not-yet-won fight for equal pay.

These are complicated times, and in an effort to be fair and inclusive to all, we can often lose sight of the bigger picture. Recently, Connecticut girls and young women took a stand when they filed a suit, and I applaud their courage. Protecting the rights of girls and young women in sports is not about excluding boys, young men nor those seeking to transition from men into women, it is about recognizing that we female athletes — and we women in general — train, sweat and perform differently than those born with an XY chromosome pair. Muscle mass, bone density, center of gravity, width and curvature of the hips and hormone balance are fundamental biological differences that do affect competitive sports.

It doesn’t mean we are weak, and it doesn’t mean there aren’t times when women are not actually more adept physically than men (endurance and childbirth come to mind). But it does mean girls and boys are different in sports, just as we are different in medicine. To ignore this fundamental truth is folly. And to allow genetic boys to compete as girls is a disservice to our society as a whole. This isn’t about glass ceilings or excluding non-conforming genders from society, this is about the opportunity for girls and women to compete and know they have a fair chance. It’s the whole reason we have girls teams, and in fact why Title IX exists. It’s the reason why the Marines have alternate testing requirements for its elite female warriors, it’s why we have different growth charts at the pediatrician, it’s why anabolic steroids are prohibited in sport, and for the many others reasons why we encourage and often regulate to level playing fields.

I’ve been competing my whole life. And at this stage in my life, I welcome competition against men and women equally — truth be told, I don’t give much mind to it. But putting aside my occasional weekend warrior antics, where I compete these days is the largely board room, the negotiation table and upcoming for the right to serve Connecticut’s Third District in Congress. Mental skills, not physical ones. (Though if Rosa’s up for an arm wrestle … game on!) Importantly though, I credit the skills, determination and leadership I learned through sport as those which best helped prepare me mentally to not just survive, but to thrive in the workplace. My finesse, tact, negotiation and wit is all female, but it has been productively shaped through the lens of fairness in competition — including the many times I lost on the sports field.

I applaud the rights of transgender individuals. As humans, they should be embraced and afforded the same love, dignity and respect as everyone else. However, to suggest that biological males should be winning state championships and the associated honors, accolades (and collegiate scholarships) in lieu of girls and young women in women’s sports is more than unfair. It is destructive to the spirit of equality and fairness in competition and undermines for girls and boys so many of the valuable life lessons taught through sport.

Connecticut, I stand with the girls of our state when they say — let’s keep girls at play.