A viral Instagram post put longstanding disparities between men’s and women’s sports facilities on blast last week ahead of college basketball’s March Madness tournament. The images compared the decked-out weight room for men’s teams with a paltry set of dumbbells tucked into a corner provided to women’s teams. The NCAA issued an apology and upgraded the women’s equipment, but the incident highlights deep inequities that continue to plague women’s sports.
The wage gap between men and women athletes, for example, persists at an alarming level. The WNBA’s highest base salary is $117,500 compared to the NBA’s highest salary of $40 million. The largest salary in the National Women’s Soccer League was $46,200 in 2019, as opposed to $7.2 million in Major League Soccer. Gross inequities like these should serve as the focal point of conversations about disparate treatment for women athletes. Instead, state legislatures across the country have focused on pushing a false solution to a nonexistent problem by banning trans girls from sports.
Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves recently signed the first state law targeting transgender people this year. The “Mississippi Fairness Act” requires Mississippi schools to determine gender based on a student’s birth certificate, barring all trans girls and women from competing on teams matching their gender identity. Masquerading as an affirmative protection for cis girls and women in sports while relying on pseudoscience, the bill does the exact opposite.
I grew up in the world of women’s sports. Throughout my life, I played soccer for the New York Olympic Development Program; the number-one team in the Eastern Regional Championship for girls under 17; and garnered individual accolades on varsity teams in college and high school as team captain. I competed in dozens of states, traveling around the country to play with the best of the best in youth soccer. For most of my life, soccer was my life.
The Mississippi Act, and other bills like it, undermines many of the critical values sports can teach us. Playing soccer offered me a meditative space away from all of life’s other stressors—an environment where I felt strong and that provided me with a sense of confidence. Participating on a team ingrained invaluable lessons about fairness and equity, winning and losing gracefully, and collaborating with people whom I share little in common with except for a love of soccer. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything, nor do I accept being used as a scapegoat for hateful legislation excluding trans girls from accessing these same opportunities.
Trans girls are girls. Full stop. They are girls while getting dressed in the morning; they are girls when they go to school during the day; and they are undoubtedly girls when they play sports with their peers after school. No victory feels any sweeter and no loss is made less brutal by virtue of these children not getting their fair shot at playing. Cis women in sports have an obligation to state these facts plainly: we are not threatened nor are we made safer when our trans siblings are left behind.
It bears repeating that the “science” many critics claim requires discriminating against trans girls and women in sports is, at best, unclear. “Studies of testosterone levels in athletes do not show any clear, consistent relationship between testosterone and athletic performances,” explains Katrina Karkazis, senior visiting fellow at Yale University School of Medicine with expertise in testosterone. Moreover, all sports require “different talents and anatomies for success,” says Dr. Eric Vilain, pediatrician and geneticist at Children’s National Hospital. “We should focus on celebrating this diversity rather than focusing on relative notions of fairness.” It comes as no surprise, then, that nearly 100 women’s rights and gender justice organizations recently stated their support for full and equal inclusion of trans children in sports.
As a woman and an athlete, I am far more concerned about the real inequities between men’s and women’s sports teams than the discriminatory notion that trans girls and women do not belong. They are always welcome on my team.