Unfair advantage or rightful inclusion?

By Staff Writer Greg Estabrooks.

Earlier this month, Rachel McKinnon, a transgender woman from Canada, won the UCI Masters Track Cycling World Championships in Los Angeles.

While the silver medalist, Carolien Van Herrikhuyzen of the Netherlands congratulated McKinnon on her win, the bronze medalist, Jennifer Wagner of the U.S. was less enthusiastic for her.

Wagner promptly took to Twitter following the race and aired her grievances. She claimed that the race was “not fair” and that McKinnon should not have been allowed to compete because she is a biological male.

Wagner, along with many other professional athletes, feel as though people assigned male at birth who identify as women possess an unfair advantage when it comes to athletics. They often cite the higher testosterone levels of people assigned male at birth, as well as the natural physical differences between the sexes. For example, males normally have a greater lung capacity than females, and their hip structure better suits them for performing athletic activities such as running.

Proponents of allowing transgender athletes to compete in the sporting division to which their gender identity corresponds with argue that the advantages of being assigned male at birth can be erased through hormone therapy. They believe that discriminating against them is ungrounded, and is comparable to when African-Americans were excluded from professional sports.

While the exclusion of African-Americans from sports was undoubtedly a case of arbitrary discrimination based on racist attitudes, the discrimination of transgender women from women’s sports seems like it needs a closer examination, as there could be a reasonable basis for discrimination.

Remember, although the word “discrimination” may sound bad in itself, some forms of it are permissible, and are practiced in society all the time.

For example, employers discriminate against job applicants by only choosing those who are well qualified for the position. This type of discrimination is unquestioned, as the employer has good reason to choose the best candidates for the job.

Discrimination is especially visible in sports, not just professionally, but at every level. The cutoff age for Little League baseball is normally 12-years old. If players weren’t discriminated against based on their age, 16-year olds could play in Little League and hit 350-foot home runs every time they got up to bat. This would be extremely unfair.

In boxing, there are different weight classes. Boxers are discriminated against based on their weight because a 145-pound boxer would stand no chance against a 230-pound boxer. Different weight classes are necessary to ensure fair fights between similarly sized opponents.

And in basically all sports, there are separate divisions and leagues for men and for women. This is because men are usually at an advantage, as they are, in general, bigger, stronger, faster, and so on. Of course, this isn’t always the case at the individual level, as there are plenty of women who are bigger, stronger, and/or faster than certain men.

But this type of discrimination, based on sex, is important in professional sports so that athletes can experience fair competition. If professional sports weren’t separated by sex most of them would be completely dominated by men.

No Olympic female sprinter could ever beat Usain Bolt in a 100-meter dash, and it is unlikely that any female basketball player would be able to stop LeBron James from scoring the basketball at any rate which could be deemed competitive. Would it be fair for a woman boxer to have to fight Mike Tyson in order to claim the title of heavyweight champion of the world?

Women rightly have their own sports so that they can compete against athletes who are similar to themselves in biological makeup and natural athletic ability. This is great, as it creates highly competitive professional and amateur sporting leagues where women can showcase their talents and strive for greatness.

Allowing transgender women to compete in women’s sports opens the door for the dissolution of good and fair competition. Currently, the only gauge in most sports for transgender women seeking to compete in women’s divisions is their testosterone levels.
So long as their testosterone levels are below a certain measure, their participation is allowable. However, as discussed before, there are other natural advantages possessed by biological men which are not erasable through hormone therapy.

Transgender women carry with them, even after all of the hormone therapy and physical alterations, some attributes from their status as assigned male at birth which could be very advantageous.

Under current policies, Usain Bolt, or someone like him, could simply declare that he is now a transgender woman, take the appropriate hormones, and then go compete in the Olympics as a woman. I’m quite sure that no female sprinter would consider this to be fair.

Current policies pertaining to transgender athletes allow for this type of thing to happen, and by doing so create the possibility for athletes to possess an unfair advantage over their competitors.



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