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Integrating Sports

07 May

stickball

Organized sports have been in the news an awful lot lately, and not in a bowl/pennant/series kind of way. It’s been all about sex. Sexual orientation, sexual (mis)behavior, and gender orientation in team sports has been popping up like kernels in a Jiffy Pop. The accumulated effect of these pops is to force us to look at sports with fresh eyes. Why are teams gender-specific? Well, because (we sputter), because…men are biologically larger. Sometimes they are, and that is an ancient argument that we used to keep women out of the police force, the firehouse and the military.

If a standard of physical skill and strength is set for a team, why does it matter the gender of the player? Organized sports have never been so popular amongst children. Free-range play for every age of child has been replaced by team sports. During the K-12 years, boys and girls are often the same size, and in some cases the girls are bigger. There are unisex teams for children, but usually they only lasts until middle school. Most sports do not legally allow full body tackles. So if a girl/woman has an equal skill to that of a boy/man what is the issue exactly? Why are we hanging onto this gender specific paradigm? We let go of most gender specific curriculum years ago (show of hands for those who remember being tracked into sewing/cooking or mechanical drawing/shop.) The “Boys” and “Girls” engravings on old school doors while quaint are ignored. Title IX opened up an entire world of athletics to girls. And that was good. But it has been almost two generations since the initiation of that progress. Team sports have become as routine an endeavor for girls as ballet once was. So why aren’t boys and girls playing on the same team? Well, (ahem) what of the locker rooms, you ask?

Why in the world do we design locker rooms in which there is no privacy, particularly in schools? Is there ever a life stage more rife with body image issues?! Why do we subject any person to such a thing? Heterosexual, homosexual, pansexual, transgender; everyone deserves a little privacy. That aside, the short answer to the locker room question is; build locker rooms with private showers equipped with a small vestibules (with hooks and shelves.) Lockers can be in a communal setting and dressing/undressing can be done privately.

Any organization, which by definition is for only one segment of the population, cultivates a potentially unhealthy camaraderie. The less diverse a group the more myopic their orientation. A group can easily influence even the most open-minded individual, particularly when they’re coached that there is no “I” in team. It is in closed societies that we often find misdeeds towards others. Opening up the teams to any person with the skills/talents to play the sport will create a better environment for all.

As more young people openly identify as transgender and/or L(esbian),G(ay),B(isexual) we will be faced with privacy and equity issues. And this is good. When we change the way school athletics is handled we will (eventually) see the effect on professional sports. It took years of Title IX to get us to the WNBA, and we certainly have a ways to go in other sports. But it is progress, and that is good.

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