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Integrating Sports

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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 Free-range play for every age of child has been replaced by team sports.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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Posted by on May 7, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Education

 

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Sports Talk

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Team sports and bad behavior have been linked more than a few times recently. The theme of the stories isn’t necessarily new nor are their clusterings. It’s common that news producers bring similar stories (of any vein) to the forefront resulting in the illusion of clustering. The fact remains that bad behavior in team sports probably happens all the time to varying degree. What makes the recent spate of stories worth examining is that they’ve prompted conversations regarding homosexuals in sports. Several sport professionals and commentators have made grim pronouncements and analysis about the state of ‘tolerance’ in team sports. More than a handful of serious men are giving serious thought to what homosexuality means to and how it affects team sports. Armchair commentators are baffled by the efforts to correct what they experience as innocuous behavior. Some harken back to their own survival of a coach’s wrath and wonder what the hell has happened to sports.

What seems to be missing from all of these conversations is women. Where is the serious analysis of women’s sports teams? Why are we not discussing what a locker room might look like with openly gay women in it? Where are the exposes of women coaches yelling gay slurs at her athletes? Putting aside the fact that women sports teams are not nearly as financially lucrative as their male counterparts, why the discrepancy? Why do we not seem to care all that much about the sexual orientation of women athletes? Why is it hard to even imagine a woman using a lesbian slur? Can we even picture a locker room in which any female athlete would care a whit about the orientation of a teammate? Could it be that the recent ‘homosexuals in sports’ conversation is much more about ‘machismo in sports’?

Men dominate sports, and sports are often about domination. For men (regardless of orientation) homosexuality can be seen as a threat to machismo/dominance. Much of the anti-homosexual slurs don’t refer to men loving men, but of a state of being effeminate. Of course on a purely rational level it’s hard to imagine anything more masculine than men partnered with other men. It is the very celebration of manhood that is what defines homosexuality, but we digress.

Even if we ignore women being ignored in this conversation, we are still left questioning whether we’re being ingenuous in this conversation. Is it really about how athletes and coaches view and treat homosexuals? Or is it that male sports teams are defined by homogeneity and there is little room for divergence? Could it be that male team sports is an ancient phenomenon and like a good chorus line, is dependent upon a neutrality of identity? Is the version of machismo fostered by team sports am ancient defense to the intense touching and often underdressed state of teammates? Could it be that self-concsciousness that sometimes leads to bad behavior with women? Could it be that all traditionally all-male groups suffer from the same self-consciousness? Could that be behind “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the Boy Scout ban? Could all the bigotry really just be an attempt to affirm; “No, I’m not, they are!”

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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