Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Opinion: Sports have never been fair

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Christopher Herr is a teacher at Concord High School and a resident of Concord.

House Bill 1205 would prohibit transgender female athletes from participating in school sports “designated for women, females, or girls” in grades 5-12. The NH Senate had its first hearing on the bill this week. One of the main arguments supporters are making in support of this bill is based on the idea that individuals identified as male at birth grow up on average bigger, stronger, and faster than individuals identified as female at birth, and that means that transgender female athletes will have unfair biological advantages over cisgender female athletes in athletic competitions.

Sports have never been fair. Since the dawn of the first athletic competitions in human history, there have always been athletes that have had biological advantages over others. Until recently, we have always celebrated athletes (or hated them if they were the opposition) for having biological advantages. Athletes who are taller, faster, can jump higher, or throw harder than others are celebrated so often, in fact, that as spectators we use a special phrase to acknowledge their gifts: You can’t teach that.

One of the most obvious advantages one athlete can have over another that is truly outside of anyone’s control is height. Basketball, volleyball, swimming, baseball, and football are just some of the sports where height can give athletes a significant advantage. You can’t control it. Your height is what it is.

According to the CDC, the average height of an American adult aged 20 and older is 5’ 9” for men and 5’ 3.5” for women. Arguably the most famous and celebrated athlete in America right now is Caitlin Clark, the female basketball player from the University of Iowa who broke the NCAA career scoring record for basketball this past season (for women and men).

She is also 6’ tall, 8.5” taller than the average woman in America. Clark’s Iowa team lost in the national championship game to the University of South Carolina, and the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player was the center for South Carolina, Kamilla Cardoso, who stands at 6’ 7” – 15.5” taller than the average American woman. It’s been reported that Cardoso was 6’ 5.5” tall at the age of 12.

There are numerous other biological advantages other than height. Speed, quickness, wingspan, foot size, hand size, hand-eye coordination, foot-eye coordination, stamina, etc. Some of those you can improve with the right training, but all of them can biologically vary from one person to another regardless of your gender assigned at birth.

The most celebrated swimmer in American history is Michael Phelps, who won 23 gold medals and is also 6’4”, has a wingspan of 6’7” (a 1:1 ratio height to wingspan is typical), has size 14 feet, and double-jointed ankles that allow him to move his feet back and forth 15 degrees more than is typical, all advantages in swimming. Simone Biles is the unquestioned GOAT of American gymnastics (male or female) and the most decorated gymnast in history, and is also 4’8” — 7.5” shorter than the average American woman — in a sport where being shorter makes it easier to pull off the most acrobatic of routines.

In fact, biological advantages for athletes have not only been accepted for millennia, but we actually encourage kids to participate in sports where they would have a biological advantage over other kids. Have a child that is taller than normal for their age? It is a virtual guarantee that multiple adults, and probably even that child’s parents, will encourage that child to give basketball a try. Have a child that is faster than normal and has amazing foot-eye coordination? I’m guessing that child has been encouraged to play soccer. Have a child with a cannon for an arm and above-average hand-eye coordination? The adults are probably pushing football, softball, and baseball among others. I’m guessing many people reading this column, including many of our state legislators, have been guilty of this very type of encouragement with their own children at some point.

Some sports, like wrestling and crew, have created weight classes to eliminate some of these biological advantages. But across all sports biological advantages still remain rampant, celebrated, and part of what we use to encourage kids to play some sports and discourage them from playing others.

The idea that any sports were fair because they were devoid of biological advantages before transgender athletes came along is laughably inaccurate. What HB 1205 would do is effectively permit biological advantages in sports for all athletes except female transgender athletes. That doesn’t protect fairness, it just discriminates.

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