The death of women’s sports?

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A few weeks ago, I was thinking about girls’ high school athletics. That, and women’s collegiate sports, have been in the news as of late. As I mused about the subject, I couldn’t recall that my high school, Dobyns-Bennett High School of Kingsport, Tennessee, fielded girls’ sports teams. So, I broke out the old senior annual and decided to investigate.

My senior year was the 1968-69 school year. Of course, there was no girl’s football team. That was to be expected. Nor was I anticipating a girl’s baseball team. Nor was there. But girls’ softball, a staple of high school and college sports, wasn’t there. Girls’ basketball? Nope. Neither was there a girls’ track and field team. Surely, there were girls that played on the golf or tennis teams, right? Again, no.

That year, the school sported a swim team. There were 19 students on that inaugural team. Seven of them were girls. As far as I know, they were the first female varsity athletes in the school’s long history which began in 1919. The only other experience available to female athletes, by perusing the annual, was to make the cheerleading team.

The school clubs were filled with both boys and girls but the karate club, which saw itself as more of an athletic team that competed with clubs from two other high schools, had 23 members. Again, all boys. In 1968-69, at least in my high school, which was considered an outstanding and progressive institution, girls were relegated to physical education classes and intermural sports. I assume we were not the exception.

Since I now have twelve grandchildren, nine of them being girls, I have taken great pleasure in watching the boys — and the girls — compete in athletics at some level. My oldest grandchild, a girl, was on the softball and swim teams at her high school. It is now normal for every school to have girls’ athletic teams. But it took a federal law to make it happen.

Title IX is the most commonly used name for the federal civil rights law in the United States that was passed as part of the Education Amendments of 1972. It prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or any other education program that receives funding from the federal government. The law was signed by President Richard Nixon and became effective in June 1972, a full three years after I graduated.

The practical effect was that almost all schools, even those private and religious schools that do not receive federal dollars, have athletic programs for females at both the high school and university levels. Equality in sports has filtered down since then to include teams for both sexes starting even at very early ages in community programs.

Female athletes compete at every level, including the Olympic and professional levels. Women even compete in professional boxing and mixed martial arts. But they, as do the males, compete against each other — not against the opposite sex, except at the very earliest ages.

But that is all changing. It is fair to say that most males will defeat females in head-to-head athletic competition. There are exceptions. I would never step into a ring or cage with a professional boxer or mixed martial artist, female or not. Anyone who has been around sports, law enforcement, or the military understands that men, as a general rule, are bigger, taller, stronger, faster, and more muscular than their female counterparts.

Now, biological males who are becoming “trans-women” are entering women’s sporting events and beating them every time. Where are the feminists and the pioneers of Title IX these days? When I was involved in martial arts, as a competitor and instructor, I became aware of a man, a green belt, from a certain school. He won first place in his division in every tournament he entered. Was he that good? Well, for a green belt, one of the early intermediate ranks, he was outstanding.

The problem was that he had been a martial artist for something like five years. He should have been in the black belt division. But he wasn’t. He refused promotion and kept winning trophies. It was like a 25-year-old beating up a six-year-old. It was wrong and the instructor who should have refused to let him compete at that level turned a blind eye. The judges had no way of knowing that he was “sandbagging,” our term for such behavior.

Soon he and his instructor became objects of ridicule and derision. Deservedly so. His trophies were worthless and his “victories” hollow. It was thought by most in the martial arts community that he wasn’t man enough to compete with men his own skill level.

Whatever term one chooses to use, a person with male DNA has no business competing in girl’s or woman’s sports. It unfair to the biological females who have trained all their lives for their big moment only to have it snatched away by a sandbagger.

Last month, a 29-year-old biological male, who self-identifies as a female, beat a 13-year-old girl for the top prize in a women’s skateboarding competition in New York City. Where’s the honor in that “victory”?

In March a University of Pennsylvania swimmer who prefers to be called Lia Thomas won a NCAA swimming contest and was hailed as the first transgender athlete to win a Division I championship in any sport. Thomas, by the way, swam for the men’s team at Penn for three years before taking the trophies away from the female athletes.

This has to stop. It makes a mockery of Title IX. It is insulting and demeaning for the women who watch their sports being dominated by increasing numbers of biological males. If high schools, colleges, and the Olympic committee wish to introduce a new “transgender division,” it couldn’t be any more bizarre that what is happening already and it would be preferable than seeing women’s sports destroyed.

Our culture has been enriched in the 50 years since Title IX. Tens of millions of females have gotten to compete in a way that the girls in my high school graduating class never had a chance to do. Whole industries and occupations have been created as a result of Title IX. Even Caitlyn Jenner, the Olympic champion who won a gold medal and set a world record in the decathlon at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, as Bruce Jenner, told the NCAA, “… this has to stop now.” Jenner also said in an interview, “It’s not good for women’s sports. It’s unfortunate that this is happening.”

On this, Jenner and I are in agreement. This has to stop.

[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). The church has worship services at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays but is also live streaming at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life). He may be contacted at davidepps@ctk.life.]

25 COMMENTS

  1. Y’all are missing the main point here.

    Sure, fairness is an important principle in athletic competition, for all the reasons mentioned. Two more: Team USA women’s soccer team got beat badly by a team of 15 year old boys in TX. There are high school males who run faster than Olympic women’s times in the same event.

    Odd how there are no “trans-men” (biological females) able to make men’s teams, no?.

    But the main point is TRUTH. No matter the make-up, drag queen dresses, drug or surgery-induced changes, these are still males playing make-believe. Do we help a person suffering from anorexia by telling them they really are fat? I think not.

    But like the crowds of adoring peasants in “The Emperor Has No Clothes”, woke activists tell us we must not only accept men in women’s sports, but “celebrate” them. You must clap along with them like trained seals despite what we know to be true. That’s a dude.

    Let’s stay on the side of truth: keep men in men’s sports, locker rooms and bathrooms, and women in theirs. Then all these debates about “fairness” just fall into place.

      • Suz

        You may be onto something here. Ignorance, or perhaps willful denial, are involved when one steps away from the truth.

        It is ignorance or willful denial to believe that men can become women, that allowing men into women’s sports is fair, and that true female competitors aren’t impacted by fewer opportunities to make a team, get a scholarship or to win an event.

        It is ignorance or willful denial to think that most girls and women athletes want a man changing clothes and showering with them in their locker room. The truth is, men are not women and women are not men – – and that’s the reason for Title IX.

        Stay true.

        • 2 Cents – for people who believe these delusional ideas, “truth” to them is whatever they can justify in their mind. “Truth” for them has no basis in anything scientifically proven – it’s THEIR “version” of truth that matters to them. You’re spot on – it’s the emperor not having clothes on and refusing to believe it. You simply cannot talk any sense or logic into people as delusional as this.

  2. You know what’s sad is setting your kids up to think they have a right to win — this flies in the face of what “competition” is about, right? So, a bigger, stronger, faster, better-at-the-sport woman than you enters the competition and wins … That’s what happens in a competition, right? you’re never guaranteed a win unless the fix is in. Why the belly-aching about it now?

    it reminds me of when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in MLB, and when POC athletes were finally allowed to play professional sports: they quickly became stars, and less talented white guys were pushed right off the playing field. I am sure they felt like they were treated unfairly because they had been competitive before the POC athletes were allowed on the field.

    but what was their complaint really about? Genetics. These new POC players were just bigger, stronger, faster, better-at-the-sport. And what is Epps’ complaint about? Genetics. Some trans athletes may be bigger, stronger, faster, better-at-the-sport than some female athletes now. (by the same token, some trans athletes who transition from playing in the female leagues to playing in the male leagues may find themselves at a disadvantage).

    But just as the race issue sorted itself out in a few years (as far as professional sports goes), I think the trans issue will sort itself out, too. There just aren’t a lot of trans athletes, and the ones who play sports are even fewer, so let’s not pretend this is “the death of women’s sports.”

    As always, kudos to Suz for being nicer than I am and calling all parties to rise above and try to extend the hands of Christ to all competitors. This is the way.

    • Dear Friend Vjax–
      Yes! And thank you for your thoughtful words.

      I often wonder how we fail to realize THIS is our moment, in making history. Can I honestly think I would have actively supported “Major Taylor”, Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson…back then; and yet not be a voice on behalf of trans athletes today?

      Personally, I hope to look back and say that I chose the right side–the side that welcomed and included; and we are all better people for it.

      • suz and Vjax

        Lia Thomas is no Jackie Robinson.

        You cannot equate the struggle of Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson et al over racism of the day to today’s trans athletes and their negative impact on women’s sports.

        Racism is based on a human difference determined by the Creator – – biology and genetics for the non-believers. That difference does not matter in one’s acceptance to play sports. Jesse and Jackie deserved to compete against other men, with the best athlete the winner.

        Trans athletes like Lia / Will Thomas are welcome to compete with their biological peers, as he did for years before deciding to change his appearance. Will Thomas and other trans athletes are not being denied an opportunity to compete based on biology / genetics, but rather they seek special privileges and “rights” that harm girls and women athletes.

        I’ll stand on the true side of Jackie Robinson: Title IX as it was intended for girls’ and women’s opportunity in sports.

        Stay true.

    • Duval, Your input is very eloquent however I don’t think that kids expect to have the “right to win “, but they should be allowed to expect to compete on a fairly level playing field.

      Your efforts to deflect this into a Christian-minded discussion are clever and in keeping with your past dialogue on a number of subjects. Please don’t confuse or overlap fairness with Christian principles.

      Love me some Jacksonville 🙂

      • Hometown600–

        I am responding on behalf of myself only (not for my esteemed fellow member of The Squad, Vjax!”)

        You caution, “Please don’t confuse or overlap fairness with Christian principles.”

        That is my concern over the original opinion piece. When Fr. Epps pens his column, pictured in his priestly collar and identified as a Bishop in a Christian denomination…of course one would assume his subject accords with “Christian principles”. In this case, the fairness of a level playing field

        Sadly, I would argue that when Christianity clashes with the teaching of Jesus, the Christ, great damage is done.

        Columns such as this one send a harsh, unbending lesson on the importance of winning.
        And fairness trumps mercy.

        I was hoping to offer another option–that we live the Christ life not as taught by Fr. Epps and his “winners” in life; but the teachings taught by Christ, surrounded by his band of the least, the last, the lost, the littlest and yes, the losers in life.
        Like every one of us, in truth.

        • Well said, Suz. You can speak for me! Fr Epps has a column here at The Citizen for some reason; it’s not that he’s another senior white guy — there are so many of those that it’s a poor reason to choose him, so it seems like it must be the collar: he’s a senior white guy with the imprimatur of the majority religion. So it feels like if he is going to be spouting stuff that flies in the face of the ethos of Jesus, he should have to say he is speaking ex-cathedra, so no one gets the impression he is speaking as a man of God.

          And Hometown, as for your assertion “they should be allowed to expect to compete on a fairly level playing field” — is this ever really true? I think amateur golf is the only place where we make an attempt to even-up the play by giving handicaps — if you’re a bad golfer, the handicap puts you closer to the level of the better golfer, you know?

          You can say girls the same age should compete against one another … but some girls are athletic and some aren’t, so really, to make it a level playing field, we should say: girls the same age with about the same abilities should compete against each other … And in the example of the skateboard competition, I believe Fr Epps said a 13-year-old girl lost to a 29-year-old woman. Clearly in this case age was not a factor in the level playing field, so it just seems like the better skateboarder won … And if there were older women in the competition, weren’t they unfairly disadvantaged to be up against a teenager?

          Someone is always going to win; some people are just better athletes. The sooner we teach that to our kids, the less whingeing we’ll hear about “that’s not fair.” It’s not. Some people just have more skills. Someone will be best, and it won’t always be you.

          • Jax – “Someone is always going to win; some people are just better athletes.”

            Obviously the dude wanting to compete against women isn’t the better athlete, otherwise he’d be competing against his biological brethren. Nobody stops them from competing in their biological class.

            So your whole tripe of just being about competition, and every biological female should just suck it up is a boat load of horse manure.

            Either these guys are simply looking for an easier group to beat, or they are trying to force others to share share their delusion.

            They will never be a biological woman. They will never experience what it is like to have a period. They will never be able to give birth, they will always be someone that was born in a body which they do not accept. Yes, they need our compassion, but pandering to their delusions may not be the best thing for them.

            My.O2 You actually make a valid point with anorexia, and what kind of disservice would we do them by sharing their fat delusion with them. I think it might equally apply to the gender dysphoric.

  3. Suz

    Would you also find it equitable and fair for six year olds to play against 14-year-olds in organized sports? How about pitting 98 pound wrestler is against 150 pound wrestlers? I would hope the answer is no but the thought of asking females to compete against other humans that are genetically born as men or male seems equally inequitable to me.

    Competition by nature categorizes and recognizes success. It’s noble to talk about holding hands As a reward in and of itself, but that’s not realistic is it? Unless we’ve gotten it wrong from the beginning of time 🙂

  4. Hello Fr. Epps–
    I am at loss to understand how a life-long Christian at your age (and mine) defines a “winner” as you do.

    The greater lesson and reward in competing together with trans athletes is learning to welcome those different than ourselves. The courage to break ranks with our familiar friends and stand beside new ones. To have an open mind and an open heart.

    In short, young athletes can show us all a better way. A better world. They need your encouragement in this.

    We hear much about churches losing congregants; especially young people. Columns such as this one is an example of the disconnect they feel. A more Christ-like, grace-filled (and yes! admittedly UNFAIR!) appeal would be to laud the athlete who discounts a ribbon or trophy to clasp another’s hand, instead.

    THAT is a true winner. THAT is the Universal Christ.

    • Suz, if the goal is to all hold hands and sing Kumbaya then perhaps you also see no benefit or worth in having different weight classes for wrestling, boxing, MMA, tennis, and the list goes on. The whole point of setting these parameters is toMake for a “fair fight”. Should six year olds have to take the field against 12–year-olds? If we are talking about physical activities or sports, I don’t think that females should have to compete against counterparts that are genetically male.

      You are undoubtedly a smart person so I won’t even suggest that this concept is lost on you however I’m not sure why you choose not to embrace it (or at least recognize the validity and truth of it). It’s demoralizing to play an opponent that is way better regardless of the sport. Making a fairly even playing field is part of sportsmanship.

      • Hometown600 (Both times!)
        My appeal to Fr. Epps was not about being “equitable and fair”. As a matter of fact, I stated up front that welcoming trans athletes into youth competition was admittedly unfair to ask…yet I dare to hope. Because my appeal is really about encouraging a spirit of empathy and generosity in every aspect of life.

        As Doug Tucker wrote so well, “Sports allow all those opportunities and more.”
        The issue of including trans people in the athletic arena is our chance to be our better selves.

        I’m not shooting for being noble. Just the human I feel called to be.

          • Hometown600–

            Thank you for starting my day with a smile.

            Your observation, “The inter-web is tricky” is quite an understatement!
            Especially to me, from the Ticonderoga #2 Generation.

            I, too, have sent an email to The Citizen that never arrived. No matter, I suppose…no doubt whatever the question was, Love was my answer!

            Crystal Blue Persuasion, HT!

        • No it is not. It is taking away from those who have trained all their lives to compete with other females and expecting them to just feel happy about being cheated out of the opportunity before them. make no mistake…these biological males are cheaters. They can’t compete with other males so they beat up on the girls. Even the Apostles Paul said that believers were to run the race of life so as to win…to obtain the prize.

    • We just need to eliminate any sport that require athleticism and move towards a video/board/card game based competition. Have the NCAA adopt board game leagues and have national championships in UNO. Have Olympic gold for dominoes. High School students could aspire to be a Super Mario State champ. No more CTE or need for steroids. Like the great Apollo Creed said: be a thinker and not a stinker.

    • I don’t know Suz, is any natural thing in life fair? I look at the objectives in sports differently than you. I see sports as a means to do the very best one can and provide an opponent the opportunity to do the very best they can. I see sports as a means of learning to: be a team member; focus on “in the moment” situations: develop skills; persevere; sacrifice; recognize achievements; have fun. Sports allows all those opportunities and more. How many years of competition does it take for a female to consistently lose to biological male competitors before the biological female becomes discouraged and altogether quit sports? Having raised children, to include two females, I didn’t like the idea of challenging them to do something I knew they couldn’t succeed. I will much rather open all sports to all genders than to institutionally subject biological females to unfair physical disadvantages when competing with biological males. Placing females in a institutionally unfair condition seems to only promote contempt for the institution. Kids are smart.

      • Dear Doug Tucker–Thank you for this. I always appreciate your easy style of writing.

        It doesn’t seem to me that you and I are very far apart at all on this subject.

        One thing I agree with 100%–“Kids are smart.”
        They are also oft-times less alarmed by change than us; and comfortable with new revelations. They are proof that there is good in the world; and they inspire me to work for it.

        So do adults like you.

    • Suz — “The greater lesson and reward in competing together with trans athletes is learning to welcome those different than ourselves. The courage to break ranks with our familiar friends and stand beside new ones. To have an open mind and an open heart.”

      I haven’t heard nor seen a broad rejection of trans women participating on male teams. I can’t say I’ve heard of one case where men protested having a trans women in their ranks. I think their team mates have stood right there with them. But it seems to be the trans woman that rejects their biological matched team mates. So perhaps is it the trans persona that needs to develop a bit of empathy and generosity by not imposing on the rest of society.

      If I decide to march to a different drummer, I don’t insist that everyone else change their tempo so that I don’t look ridiculous. Perhaps a bit of humility might be in order for the activist trans person. This is an important lesson for our children to learn.

      • Hiya, ToSirWithLove–

        Every now and then, someone will pen an exaggerated, mocking take on my views (and where they will lead)…and they hit the nail on the head! I want to respond with a delighted, “Exactly!”.

        On this subject (trans athletes competing), I am indeed hoping for outrageous (and courageous) behavior from young people. It’s called change. And it’s time.

        I hear echos from when Jackie Robinson broke the race barrier when you write, “…needs to develop a bit of empathy and generosity by not imposing on the rest of society.”

        I have attended churches that claim to be “accepting of LGBTQ+”, but recoil at “affirming”; they justify their hardness of heart with logic like yours– “I don’t insist that everyone else change their tempo so that I don’t look ridiculous.”

        I am saddened to hear those on top suggesting to the marginalized, “…a bit of humility might be in order” and stay in their proper place.

        And THESE are the lessons you propose we teach our children? They deserve better.

        As silly as it sounds (yes–as laughable!) my hope is that knowledge and inclusion will prevail. Oh, and Love (always my punch-line, right?!).