The Progressive Delusion of Co-Ed Sports
What does "inclusivity" mean?
Preamble: There are important things happening in the world today, one of which is that the details of the DeSantis Martha’s Vineyard stunt are becoming more clear and more disgusting. Per Judd Legum:
DeSantis and his agents lied to the asylum seekers in order to get them aboard the planes. They told the Venezuelan refugees that they were going to Boston in order to get expedited work papers.
DeSantis and officials in his administration then lied to the public, insisting that they did not mislead the refugees.
Legum has a copy of the brochure that the refugees were given:
Popular Information, however, has obtained a brochure that was provided to the migrants who ultimately agreed to the flights. It was provided to Popular Information by Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR), a Boston-based legal organization that represents 30 of the migrants. The brochure says that migrants who arrive in Massachusetts will be eligible for numerous benefits, including "8 months cash assistance," "assistance with housing," "food," "clothing," "transportation to job interviews," "job training," "job placement," "registering children for school," "assistance applying for Social Security cards," and many other benefits.
So, you know: Very bad.
As I said last week, I’m sympathetic to the notion that immigration creates special stresses and challenges to border states. And if a border state like . . . uh, Florida? . . . needs help handling migrants, then they should ask for it and work constructively with governors like Charlie Baker to share the burden.
But that’s not what happened here. What happened is that an ambitious politician orchestrated a scheme to dupe a group of refugees who had been fleeing a murderous, communist regime. He then used taxpayer money to deposit these refugees—and a camera crew—in a place he hoped would provide maximum chaos and media exposure.
Anyway, all of that is lead-up to saying that: I want to talk about something else today, which is much less important.
But I’ve got my dander up about it.
So let’s go.
1. Gender Insanity
Over the weekend the Atlantic ran a piece by Maggie Mertens making the case for abolishing sex-segregated sports.
First, we’re going to talk about why this proposal is madness. And second we’re going to talk about problems with different ideas of inclusivity.
Mertens leans heavily on a few outlier cases: A girl who wants to play high school football. A boy who wants to play field hockey. She mentions the difficulty that a handful of trans kids pose for sports. She dutifully talks to sociologists. And she offers some . . . interesting observations:
School sports are typically sex-segregated, and in America some of them have even come to be seen as either traditionally for boys or traditionally for girls: Think football, wrestling, field hockey, volleyball. . . . Maintaining this binary in youth sports reinforces the idea that boys are inherently bigger, faster, and stronger than girls in a competitive setting—a notion that’s been challenged by scientists for years.
Decades of research have shown that sex is far more complex than we may think. And though sex differences in sports show advantages for men, researchers today still don’t know how much of this to attribute to biological difference versus the lack of support provided to women athletes to reach their highest potential. “Science is increasingly showing how sex is dynamic; it has multiple aspects and also shifts; for example, social experiences can actually change levels of sex-related hormones like testosterone in our bodies in a second-to-second and month-to-month way!” Sari van Anders, the research chair in social neuroendocrinology at Queen’s University, in Ontario, told me by email.
You can read the whole thing, if you like. But it’s bollocks from top to bottom.
This line, in particular, drives me insane:
though sex differences in sports show advantages for men, researchers today still don’t know how much of this to attribute to biological difference versus the lack of support provided to women athletes to reach their highest potential.
“Researchers still don’t know”? Which researchers, I wonder?
Let me tell you a story about two sports I know quite a lot about: High school cross country and professional tennis.
Last year at New Jersey’s Meet of Champions—the end of the season race bringing together the best runners in the state—Angelina Perez did something astonishing. She ran the hilly 5k course at Holmdel in 17:09. She beat the second-place finisher by 26 seconds, which is an eternity.
Perez is an absolute stud athlete.
And if she had run in the boys race, would you like to know where she would have finished?
The fastest Jersey girl to ever run Holmdel would have been 98th in an average year for the boys.
I mention this no to diminish Perez’s accomplishments, but to explain what would happen if high school cross-country was a co-ed sport and did not have boys and girls on separate teams.
An all-time great runner like Angelina Perez would be a middle-of-the-pack runner. And very, very few other girls, anywhere in the state, would be able to make the team. What you would get from co-ed cross country is a set-up where a few elite girls could be above-average runners and every other girl would be told, “Sorry. You didn’t make the cut.”
No amount of “support” given to female athletes would change that. And the reality is that there would be even less support for girls, because there would be so few of them, as opposed to the current situation, in which girls cross-country is thriving.
We already have a huge problem in youth sports because kids start playing in travel leagues quite young. This early specialization makes it difficult for kids who aren’t specializing by age 10 to get involved at any point from middle school on. In a rational world, any 7th grader would be able to walk onto just about any team and get to participate. In the world we live in, such an occurrence is the exception. The rule is that by age 12, the “serious” players have already separated themselves from the “average” kids. And for high school sports? Good luck trying to make a varsity team if you haven’t been playing at the travel level since your tween years.
Now imagine what this hurdle to participation looks like if you tell girls, “Hey, not only do you have to have been training at Sport X since you were 10—you’ve also got to compete against boys for your slot.”
Now let’s take tennis.
Serena Williams is, as we’ve discussed, the best woman to ever play tennis. It’s not even an argument. She won 23 majors and a total of 73 WTA tournaments.
Here’s how many majors she would have won if she’d played on a co-ed tour:
Here’s how many professional tournaments she would have won if she’d played on a co-ed tour:
People who know very little about tennis imagine that men and women can be competitive at the professional level. They think about Bobby Riggs and the Battle of the Sexes and believe that female players are more or less on the same level as men.2
People close to tennis understand that this is not true. A few years ago (non-tennis) people started speculating that Serena ought to play an exhibition match against her old buddy, Andy Murray. Here’s what Serena said about the idea:
“For me, men’s tennis and women’s tennis are completely, almost, two separate sports,” Serena Williams said.
“If I were to play Andy Murray, I would lose 6-0, 6-0 in five to six minutes, maybe 10 minutes. No, it’s true. It’s a completely different sport. The men are a lot faster and they serve harder, they hit harder, it’s just a different game.”
Her assessment is correct.
Here is what tennis would look like if the pro tour was co-ed: There would be no women on it. Period. The end. Full-stop.
Is that inclusive?
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What we have here are two competing ideas about inclusivity.
The Atlantic author, Mertens, looks at edge cases in sports and sees people being unfairly excluded: Many boys in Europe play field hockey, she asks—so why should a boy in New York not be allowed to play field hockey, too?
Her solution is to create inclusivity for these edge cases. We might call this the progressive view of inclusivity.
One hallmark of the drive for progressive inclusivity is that it constructs alternate realities to explain away inequities. Are boys faster and stronger than girls? No. Or if they are, it’s only because of the patriarchy. Here’s Mertens again:
The insistence on separating sports teams strictly by sex is backwards, argues Michela Musto, an assistant sociology professor at the University of British Columbia who has studied the effect of the gender binary on students and young athletes. “Part of the reason why we have this belief that boys are inherently stronger than girls, and even the fact that we believe that gender is a binary, is because of sport itself, not the other way around,” she told me by phone. The strict sex segregation we’ve instilled in sports at all levels gives the impression that men and women have completely different capabilities, but in reality, she said, the relationship between sex and athletic capability is never so cut-and-dried. . . . One recent small study in Norway found no innate sex difference when it came to youth-soccer players’ technical skills. The researchers hypothesized that the gap they did find between girls and boys was likely due to socialization, not biology.
You see, we only “believe” that boys are faster cross-country runners than girls because the athletes are sex-segregated. It’s the “socialization” which made the winner of the boys race at the 2021 New Jersey Meet of Champions 2 full minutes faster than Angelina Perez and makes it unlikely that Serena Williams could get a game off of Andy Murray.
The traditional view of inclusivity goes something like this: We want as many people as possible to have the ability to participate. But in order to achieve this goal, we have to set up arbitrary segregations: boys and girls teams; JV and Varsity; heavyweight and lightweight.
The creation of arbitrary segregations will, from time to time, lead to edge cases where a handful of individuals are excluded.
This is unfair and unfortunate. And if accommodations can reasonably be made, then they should.3
But if an accommodation can’t be made? Then that’s too bad.
The traditional view of inclusivity aspires to be inclusive, but realizes that in order to include many more people, some small number of people may be excluded. And that while this is regrettable, it’s the best we can do.
The irony of the progressive view of inclusivity is that making sports in America co-ed would be the most libertarian, meritocratic solution. The solution that takes nothing but outcomes into account.
And the effect of adopting such a culture would be the elimination of most of the opportunities for most girls, in every sport and at every level.
3. Called Up
This Athletic piece on the art of calling a kid up to the bigs is full of wonder:
Multiple times a year, those managers get to tell a player that he’ll soon be making his major-league debut. And every single time — sometimes with precious little notice, often in front of a room of players who keep one eye on any big-league openings — those managers do everything they can to make that moment surprising.
“Each one has to be different,” says Scott Hennessy, manager of Double-A Tulsa, a Dodgers affiliate. “Each one has to be something special.” . . .
Giving good news is easily the best part of the job of being a manager, although that doesn’t mean it’s always easy.
There are the demands to be creative, and the understanding that others in the room will be disappointed for themselves. It’s hard to be upbeat after a bad loss. There are also times when the manager disagrees with the decision, but has to suck it up because there’s an audience to please. “It may be an underperforming first-rounder who gets the call and the kid who doesn’t get the call is the free-agent kid who is way more deserving,” says Cron. “But you go, ‘You know what, that’s not my decision. This is my job, I’ve got to do it, and I’m going to make this kid’s day.’” But mostly, it’s difficult news to screw up delivering. Toned down or hyped up, it’s still going to be one of the best days of someone’s life.
That moment, that secondhand joy, helps make the rest of the job more palatable. The upper levels of the minors, and especially Triple A, are defined by roster churn. For every kid getting his first call to the majors, there are others going up for the fifth and sixth time. Every reaction has its equal and opposite counterpart, and many promotions come coupled with someone else’s demotion. More often than they deliver happy news, managers must tell a player he’s being released.
It’s that news, more than one of a call-up, that has most players looking over their shoulders, and it sucks to have to pass on. “There are a lot of guys I have to send home,” Britton says, and that wears on a manager’s nerves. Perhaps that’s why they try so hard to do something unique and personalized when there’s good news to deliver. “A lot of time it’s accepting all the negative stuff,” Britton says. “When you do send someone to the big leagues, it makes up for it tenfold.”
There’s nothing like getting told you’re going to be a major-leaguer. Except, maybe, telling someone else the same thing.
It’s important to note that DeSantis only thinks Venezuela is an authoritarian communist hell hole when he’s posturing about being Tough on Socialism. When he’s posturing about being Tough on Immigration, then he thinks Venezuelans have nothing to complain about.
Never mind that the evidence suggests that Riggs threw that match under threat from mobsters because he owed them money.
For instance: Every once in a while you’ll see a girl on a baseball team, instead of playing softball. There should be no problem with allowing this provided that a softball team for girls-only exists. Similarly, if we wanted to stand up boys field hockey teams in the U.S., that would be great—so long as girls still had their own team.