By Scott Tibbs, January 12, 2008
A freshman girl at Bloomington South sued the Indiana High School Athletic Association in November due to IHSAA policy forbidding girls from playing on boys' sports teams unless the "the school does not have a comparable girls' program" for the same sport. IHSAA considers softball (which is offered by South) to be comparable to baseball for the purposes of interpreting the rule. The lawsuit disagrees.
First and most importantly, sports is a very different animal than the right to vote, the right to free speech, the right to keep and bear arms and other fundamental Constitutional rights. The very nature of sports makes sex discrimination in sports very different from sex discrimination in the workplace, such as factories, offices or an academic environment. Not allowing a girl to play on the boys baseball or football team does not represent a challenge to basic constitutional rights, and there are many good and legitimate reasons to keep girls' and boys' sports separate.
Girls often have an unfair advantage in contact sports, if the boys they are playing against are gentlemen unwilling to play against girls with the same level of aggression they use against boys. This is true for football and (especially) wrestling, where modesty and appropriate behavior between the sexes is mixed in with contact. A few years ago, two Christian schools participating in Rainier Valley League's coed wrestling program (Tacoma Baptist School and Cascade Christian School) decided to forfeit all of their matches when one of their young men was to compete against a girl. Even sports like basketball could be considered contact sports, with boxing out for rebounds and taking charges being part of the game.
Even in non-contact sports, schools need to deal with issues (and possibly problems) involving locker rooms, seating arrangements on the team bus, sleeping arrangements at tournaments, and so forth. After returning from a Florida vacation, AM1370's Darryl Neher reported that inappropriate sexual contact on school buses forced one of the school districts in Florida to segregate their buses by sex to control the behavior. Do we really want to open this can of worms, especially while we are trying to combat sexual activity by teens?
There are other problems as well. If sex-based discrimination in sports is struck down, can we legitimately keep boys from trying out for the girls' volleyball team, for example? What if boys begin to dominate what has traditionally been a girls-only sport, thus removing the opportunity for girls to play? If the basic principle is that we cannot discriminate based on sex, then what logical argument can we use to prevent this?
Even as someone who has very little athletic talent, I understand the desire to compete to the best of one's ability. But we need to recognize that sex-based discrimination in sports is proper and should be legal. If the courts strike down ISHAA's policy under federal or state law, then the appropriate legislative body should amend the law to ensure that individual school districts and state athletic commissions have the right to segregate sports by sex.