Should girls (actual ones, not transgender) be allowed to compete in boys' sports?

This is a question which we’ve wrestled with here before, though from the reverse angle. Since “gender norms” (or what we foolishly used to refer to “biology”) are pretty much out the window these days, all sorts of intriguing and occasionally infuriating questions have arisen in the world of sports. This is even more true when it comes to students in high school than among the professional ranks. We previously looked at the case of the girl in Texas who “identifies” as a boy and wanted to wrestle in their league. But now we’ve got a case where we can eliminate the entire transgender question from the formula.

In a story over at Huffington Post this week we find the tale of Emily Nash, a 16-year-old student from Lunenburg, Massachusetts. She’s not a wrestler, but a golfer. The problem is that her small school doesn’t have a girls’ golf team. So they allowed her to go along with the boys’ team and compete in a tournament. Much to her credit, she won! And that’s when the trouble started.

Emily Nash, a 16-year-old junior at Lunenburg High School, had been relegated to playing in the boys tournament because Lunenburg High does not have a girls golf team. Nash ended up winning the tournament, and her score helped advance the team to the next level, but the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) rules state that she could neither move forward as an individual nor be awarded the trophy for having won.

Nash told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette on Wednesday that she’s “disappointed” about the decision. She knew that she wouldn’t be able to move forward as an individual player, but did not realize she wouldn’t receive the trophy.

“I was definitely disappointed, but I understand that there are rules in place. I don’t think people expected for this to happen, so they didn’t really know how to react to it. None of us are mad at the MIAA or anything like that, but I was definitely a little bit disappointed,” she said.

The main thrust of the story seems like the easiest part to resolve, at least for me. You let the girl play in the tournament and she won. Give her the darned trophy. If girls weren’t allowed to compete you should have told her that in the first place and rejected her application. As it turns out, they gave the trophy to a different player (a boy, obviously) who then tried to give it to Emily, but she demurred.

The trophy really isn’t the main issue here though, is it? The question is, should girls be competing against the boys in physical sports? If you flip that question around and ask if the boys should be able to compete in the girls’ leagues the answer seems obvious. Of course not. That’s what makes it so problematic when you have “transgender girls” who are actually boys competing against actual girls. Guys have an unfair advantage in physical sports.

Before you go all Billie Jean King on me, none of this is to say that there aren’t some women who can and would beat any number of men. If I tried to play tennis against Serena Williams I’d be slaughtered, even if she were only stopping by to thrash me on the way to the hospital to have her daughter. The same would probably happen to roughly 99.992% of the men in this country. But if you put her up against Roger Federer or Andy Murray, even on her best day? The point is, at the very top end of the competition at every level there will be a distinct advantage for the men in most all physical sports.

Does that mean that Emily shouldn’t be allowed to play with the boys? My gut reaction is to say we should let her. I realize there’s a huge double standard at play here and I’ve acknowledged it before, but it’s difficult to avoid. (This is particularly true in a small school that can’t support two golf teams.) But in the end, that doesn’t make it right, does it? If we’re going to have differentiation between the genders in competitive sports (which we clearly need), then once the line is drawn we really shouldn’t have people dancing across it.

So, getting to the bottom line of the story in question… they allowed Emily to compete in that tournament and they should give her the trophy because she won fair and square. But in the future, the school needs to find a way to allow her to compete with other girls her age in the appropriate tournaments. Besides, there’s no sense getting the girl’s hopes up. Remember what happened when Annika Sorenstam tried to compete against the men in the PGA?