Girls’ sports: A no-boy zone

Just how fair is it to exclude a boy from his high school's girls' gymnastics team?

Topics: Broadsheet, Title IX, Love and Sex,

Here we go, down that long rocky road to “fairness.” Title IX may have been created to level a playing field steeply tilted against female athletes, but now it’s being tested by boys who want to participate in girls’ sports. Today the Associated Press reported that a Wisconsin Court of Appeals ruled 3-0 to uphold a previous dismissal of a lawsuit filed after a male student attempted to join his high school’s girls’ gymnastics team.

Keith Michael Bukowski had sued Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association, which maintains a policy not to allow boys to compete in girls’ sports, on the grounds that the policy violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution as well as Title IX. He claimed that since his high school had no male gymnastics team he was being discriminated against. The court concluded that Bukowski failed to show that WIAA, a nonprofit organization of public and private high schools, was either an arm of the state (and therefore could be sued for the constitutional violation) or a federally funded organization (and thus subject to Title IX).

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But damn, the boy has a point. If girls have the right to compete on boys’ teams — especially when there are no girls’ alternatives — it seems patently unfair to argue that boys shouldn’t be allowed to play on girls’ teams in similar circumstances. But of course, absolute evenhandedness could lead to some peculiar outcomes. One of the arguments from the WIAA was that agreeing to grant Bukowski’s request would have opened the floodgates to all the boys who have asked to play on women’s volleyball teams. If boys became a norm on girls’ volleyball teams, would they eventually cease to be girls’ teams at all? How fair is it to the girls playing against teams with boys?

Shaping consistent policy to counteract an unfair world always means a difficult needle to thread. “Our fundamental reason for denying participation was that we didn’t want to see girls displaced from girls’ teams by boys,” WIAA executive director Doug Chickering told the AP. Fair enough, but it still leaves a bad taste in the mouth when the exact same arguments — “if we say yes to you, we’ll have to say yes to everyone” — once used for keeping girls out of boys’ sports are now being invoked to protect girls’ opportunities.

Perhaps for now, girls’ sports will remain protected by a no-boy zone, but one wonders how long the double standard can persist.

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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