Weighing the cost of making female athletes step on the scale

Should women be spared teamwide weigh-ins?

By Tracy Clark-Flory
Published February 9, 2007 6:43PM (EST)

Colleges make public the weight of their male athletes without significant debate. But more and more schools are not only veering away from publicizing female athletes' weight but from weighing them altogether, the New York Times reported yesterday. In fact, the National Collegiate Athletic Association explicitly recommends that schools avoid regularly weighing female athletes. Dr. Ron A. Thompson, an anorexia specialist who consults for the NCAA, says teamwide weigh-ins amount to "public degradation." The thing is, though, if it really amounts to "public degradation," then why are men still subjected to it?

It seems that weigh-ins should be required for both sexes if they are at all crucial to tracking athlete performance and health. There isn't solid proof, though, that athletes improve performance by slimming down, Thompson told the Times. The importance of weigh-ins to athlete health is another, much more complicated debate -- especially when it comes to female athletes. Both the pro and con arguments for tracking female athletes' weight revolve around the same concern: protecting women. On the one hand, some advise against weighing female athletes for fear of triggering weight anxiety. "Far more detrimental things occur when you try to micromanage body shape and size," said Jenny Moshak, the University of Tennessee's assistant athletic director for sports medicine. On the other, there's an argument for protecting players against the female athlete triad -- disordered eating, a missing period and osteoporosis -- which can have grisly effects, by tracking their weight.

The good news is that female college athletes, particularly in sports like basketball and tennis, seem to be increasingly embracing solid statures. "We're women who are not apologizing for being bigger and being different or for being athletic," said Courtney Paris, a center for the University of Oklahoma's basketball team. Gail Goestenkors, coach of Duke Unversity's women's basketball team, said she's seen on-court behavior change drastically: "Before, tall girls were all soft and finesse and didn't want contact. Now it's strong, physical, bring on the contact." Female college athletes can also look up to professional icons like Serena Williams, who has championed an "in-your-face redefinition of what a strong woman should look like," said Donna Lopiano, executive director of the Women's Sports Foundation.

This body confidence is often limited to the courts, though -- "90 percent of their lives is not lived in that oasis," said Lopiano. Still, you gotta start somewhere and this seems as good a starting point as any.

Tracy Clark-Flory

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