Playing like a girl

Jordan Clapper

The involvement of women and girls in sports remains a problem in our current society, despite the common notion that our culture is drifting toward the “progressive” end of the scale concerning women’s rights. Numerous women’s leagues and the adoption of token female players in sports leagues seems to appease the greater part of the population for the time being. But the question remains, how do we become ingrained with this notion that there needs to be a division in sports in the first place. Women continue to show promise against their male competitors in traditions such as the “Battle of the Sexes” that is still used from time to time in tennis, yet it still plays off like an exhibition, a mere sideshow in the reality of professional sports. The fact of the matter is, from an early age, we are indoctrinated with the notion that girls who wish to enter sports with boys need to be protected, that somehow there is still a split between the abilities between the sexes.

The hot-button example in recent news is that of Makhaela Jenkins, an Ohio seventh-grader who has been barred from joining the boys’ football team in her local school district. At conception, this article was going to focus on her, as even I was not aware that this problem was much more pervasive than I expected (admittedly, I am not a sports-follower, ergo it had not occurred to me to research this problem until recently). The instance of girls being banned from sports “classically suited” for boys remains nearly as widespread as the concept of separate bathrooms.

But to cover Miss Jenkins’s case with a little more clarity, her parents, like many of those involved in numerous cases such as these, cite the violation of Title IX in the Education Amendments of 1972, also called the Patsy Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, as the reason for school districts to revoke their imposition of sexual discrimination in sports. Pauls Mathews, superintendent of the Liberty Union-Thurston School District where Makhaela attends, believes that there is no violation of Title IX and goes on to say that they “have opportunities for girls, but those opportunities do not include contact sports.” The follow is a direct quote from Title IX:

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance…”

It is strange how those in power can overlook words as small as “any” or “sex” in their review of federal law.

Nevertheless, this problem is not restricted to this one Ohio individual. Caroline Pla is an eleven-year-old girl from Philadelphia who has been prevented from playing football at her Catholic school by the local Archdiocese. Despite her having played since the age of five and her equality in height and weight compared to her male counterparts (which likely should not be a consideration anyway), the school continues to uphold its rule. Another Christian school of Strong Rock Christian in Locust Grove, GA, prevented Maddy Paige from continuing to play football, claiming that she incited lust among the other players, despite changing and showering separately in the girls’ locker room. Not only does this justify (seemingly) their actions, it further objectifies girls as sexual objects. The school claims to be protecting her from unwanted advances, but who exactly are they protecting?

This article does not seek to suggest that only Christian schools are to blame or that football itself is responsible for the sexist policies that continue to plague sports, particularly school sports, but there is undoubtedly a notion that exists that girls should be segregated, much more noticeably in these settings. A small concession of hope can be gleaned from this otherwise one-sided situation. Eastern Pulaski Community School in Indiana has allowed the addition of a seventh-grade girl to their football team, albeit after a lawsuit was filed. With such actions as legal proceedings needing to be taken in order to see results, it is up for debate just what direction we are heading when it comes to this struggle for equality.

Jordan Clapper

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