The Male Sports Writers Who Say the End of Women’s Sports is No Big Deal

Recently Martina Navratilova was shunned by queer sports organizations but cheered by many others for taking a stand against male sports cheats acting under cover of “gender identity.” Since then male sports writers have been using their platforms to proclaim that boys must be allowed to compete in races against girls simply because they claim to “identify as girls,” and anyone questioning this new orthodoxy is a bigot. In the U.S., the latest one to come out as a sexist is Dave Zirin, sports editor for The Nation and frequent guest writer for outlets that claim to be progressive or socialist.  

Zirin boldly proclaims that “there is no scientific data showing that trans women are more likely to be successful in women’s sports. There is also zero evidence that there is a push by trans women to take over the women’s-sports world.” Both claims are demonstrably false to the point of being laughable.

The trans incursion into women’s sports is real and growing.

Whether intentional or incidental, there can be no serious doubt that the number of men pushing their way into elite women’s sports is significant and growing—indeed, it’s the very reason why the current discussion has become so prominent.

Martina wrote her piece in reaction to a string of nasty remarks aimed at her by Rachel McKinnon, a man who won gold in the 2018 women’s UCI Masters Track Cycling World Championships, and who calls anyone who questions the fairness of that win a bigot. Laurel Hubbard is a man who won the women’s heavyweight category in the 2017 Australia Weightlifting Open, and is expected to qualify for the 2020 Olympics. CeCe Telfer now leads the U.S. National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA’s) Division II women’s division in the 55 meter dash and 55 meter hurdle events, and was named the Women’s Most Outstanding Track Performer at the Northeast 10 conference meet. He competed as a man named Craig Telfer in men’s track events just last year. Two teenage boys have displaced girls at the Connecticut statewide track championships.

Tweet from Biehler Pro Cycling, @BiehlerPro, February 24, 2019, celebrating Natalie Van Gogh winning a women’s 50 kilometer bike race.

Most recently, in the Netherlands, 44-year-old Natalie Van Gogh, a trans-identified male cyclist has won the women’s 50 km beachrace championship. He’s around 20 years older than most of the women he’s racing against.

Tweet from Biehler Pro Cycling, @BiehlerPro, February 25, 2019, featuring Natalie Van Gogh standing surrounded by his female teammates.

Evidence of disparity is abundant, both physical and social.

While the discussion about the fairness of transsexuals competing in sports is not a new one, Zirin’s claim that there is “zero evidence” of unfairness is as stunning as it is wrong. There is in fact an abundance of longstanding evidence demonstrating that males enjoy innate physical advantages in many aspects of sport. A 2004 piece in the European Journal of Endocrinology noted that “[m]en generally have an inherent performance advantage over women due to their average greater height and muscle mass and power, as the result of correspondingly different exposures to androgens. Therefore, it is considered fair that in sports men and women compete in separate categories.” Another in the Journal of Sport and Social Issues noted that women are on average 10-15% shorter than men, and have significantly less upper-body strength and moderately less lower-body strength. Other pieces document the fact that women have reduced oxygen carrying capacity and greater percentage body fat, and that women are generally weaker than men relative to their respective body masses. Further, that even at comparable body size men have greater bone mineral content and bone mineral density than women in key areas like the hip and tibia.

Contrary to Zirin’s baffling claim that there is no evidence, Dr. Antonia Lee has written a number of in depth analyses demonstrating that trans-identified male athletes enjoy “advantage upon advantage,” while trans activists and their sports writer allies fail to respond to questions with supportive evidence or reasoned debate. And, it has been noted, some of the “research” that has been put forth in an attempt to prove that trans-identified males have no inherent advantage is less than credible.  

Past scholarship also noted that these disparities are compounded by social conditioning that strongly discourages girls from building strength or exhibiting competitive behavior. Especially at the elite level, this creates an unfair disadvantage for female athletes. As a result, men who would not be competitive when pitted against other men have been able to displace women from top rankings in track, cycling, and boxing. Not only does this harm fall almost entirely on women and girls, it is especially unfair to women and girls of color because they are already disproportionately deprived of opportunities and funding for athletics.

While Title IX of the Civil Rights Act has enabled enormous progress toward equality for women and girls in school-sponsored athletics in the U.S., it has not eliminated the disparities that prompted its enactment. Across the board in U.S. high schools there are fewer positions open to girls than to boys, but the disparities are significantly worse for girls of color. Data from the 2011-12 school year showed that males at “heavily white” high schools (meaning 90% or greater white) have the highest chance of getting a spot on a sports team, with an average of 62 athletic slots per 100 male students compared to 51 athletic slots per 100 female students at those schools; girls at “heavily minority” schools (10% or fewer white) had the lowest chance of participating in sport, with only 20 slots per 100 female students, compared to 30 slots per 100 male students at those schools. The disparities carry over into college athletics. While women make up 54.8% of students in bachelor’s degree programs, they receive only 46.3% of the athletic scholarships awarded for those programs. In short, public schools and colleges subject to Title IX are still failing to provide equal opportunities for women and girls.

To put it plainly, Zirin and the other woke bros of popular sports commentary are gaining social justice points on the backs of women and girls who are already undermined by existing racial, sexist, and economic disparities. Whether they’re doing so out of shamelessness or ignorance – or just disdain for women’s sport – it’s difficult to tell.  

Who cares about women’s competitive athletics?

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this trend is just how little male sports writers care about women’s sports or the individual women who compete. Zirin dismisses all concerns about the trans takeover in sports as “fear” and “transphobia,” agreeing with one commenter who characterized women’s objections as “entirely imagined,” “the very epitome of TERF hysteria.” He considers the fact that men are pushing women out of top spots to be unremarkable, but claims that rules needed to ensure women have any chance at competing amount to a “denial of [trans-identified males’] right to take part in sports.” Somehow Zirin’s bleeding-heart compassion goes missing when women and girls lose out in order to make a place for these men and boys. His piece echoes that of Jonathan Liew, chief sports writer for the UK’s Independent, who asks rhetorically whether it would really be so bad if “[male] transgender athletes pour into women’s sport [and] dominate everything they touch.” No, Liew decides, because in his view “trans women are women” and women’s sport is “only sport.”

Cam Smith writing for USA Today was similarly unbothered in his writing about Andraya Yearwood, the Connecticut boy who has made news two years in a row for stealing top places in girls’ statewide track meets. Instead of speaking directly to the question of whether this is fair, Smith gives the mic to Andraya’s father, himself a former college football player: “In terms of the fairness aspect, I don’t think about that as a father. I only think about, is my daughter happy, healthy and able to participate in what she wants to do? . . . . She got to compete as a girl where she feels she should compete. That’s all that matters to me. . . . This is someone who has been working toward this her whole life.” Basically this means that what Andraya wants, Andraya is entitled to get. The fairness of  this arrangement to actual girls who’ve been training for the same event? Well, that’s not even worth thinking about.  

The most these male sports writers will admit, begrudgingly, is that letting boys compete against girls raises “questions” that are “nuanced and difficult.” But they won’t let themselves answer those questions aloud because there is “no easy, painless answer.”

Painless? None of these guys are twisting themselves in knots to find a painless answer for Kate Hall, the girl Andraya has cheated out of her rightful win. They take it for granted that she must be satisfied knowing that “there was no more gracious runner in defeat.” But Kate’s pain and frustration come through in her words, even while sexist socialization and the threat of punishment force her to wear a polite smile while putting up with this profound unfairness: “From what I know,” Hall said, “[Andraya] is really nice and that’s all that matters.”

What’s the endgame here?

It seems fair to ask whether the end of women’s sports is the ultimate goal, particularly in the U.S. under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act.

A person commenting on Zirin’s Facebook post about his piece posted a link to a book that explicitly argues for an end to sex segregation in sport under Title IX. The authors of that book argue that “the concepts of sex and race are similar and comparable because they are both social constructions real only in their consequences and not in and of themselves.” Conveniently for collegiate athletic directors, integrating sports by sex could be used as an excuse for Title IX schools to pour their financial resources into programs that disproportionately benefit the male class, who for reasons of biology are in many sports able to consistently outperform the female class, while maintaining the polite fiction that woman athletes have equal opportunity to access those programs.

One thing is for certain, gender identity activism is wreaking havoc on elite sports. In a bizarre twist, USA Cycling is now prohibiting a man named Molly Cameron from competing in mens’ races, despite the fact that he has been doing so for years and somehow managed to win the men’s age 40-49 non-championship event in December 2018. While USA Cycling acknowledges that this may be unfair, it’s apparent that all these policies have one thing in common: gender identity ideology takes precedence over fairness for women and girls.