Sex and Sport in Transition

This morning we’re in the afterglow of the Super Bowl, which in recent years has had worrisome elements of pagan spectacle. But there are still worse spectacles in sport – in this, the Silly Season in the progress of our species.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) recently announced that “transgender” athletes will be allowed to compete in the upcoming Rio de Janeiro Olympics in whatever sexual identity he/she chooses – with or without reassignment surgery. So a male runner may enter any race for women, simply because he declares himself female. The IOC will test male-to-female athletes for testosterone levels – too high, and you’re out. Since those T-levels must have been observed for one year prior to the Games, we’ll be spared commentary by Bob Costas from Rio about this glorious breakthrough for humanity.

Women were first permitted to compete in the Olympics in 1900 at Paris – in tennis, sailing, croquet, equestrian, and golf. (The golf and the tennis were women-only events. Golf was dropped after 1904 and will finally return at this year’s Games.) By 1928 a fuller schedule of competitions for women began, culminating in the most recent Games (London 2012), the first in which both sexes competed in every event, although, obviously, segregated by sex: 100 meters for men, 100 meters for women, etc.

But when the Games return to Tokyo in 2020 – an eon in terms of cultural change – I promise you athletes who were women at birth and have remained so will raise loud and justifiable protest about any transgender athlete whose T-levels happen to pass muster. Genetic testing used to be the standard but no more. (And expect natural women with abnormally high T-levels – i.e. >10 nmol/L – to now also be disqualified.)

I don’t know what one has to do to drive down testosterone levels, so I asked a prominent physician, who told me that serum testosterone as low as the IOC has established for male-to-female transgender athletes makes it “very unlikely” that a more-or-less normal man could qualify.

“Perhaps a genetically predisposed male (with Klinefelters Syndrome, for instance) may have such a low testosterone level” the doctor explained, although the other aspects of that condition make success in competitive athletics even more unlikely. “There are medical manipulations [involving injectable substances] to reduce serum testosterone levels,” he said, but one assumes most of those would likely be on an IOC list of banned substances. Unlikely, then, that even a third-rate male sprinter, desperate for Olympic Gold, will declare as female. If he does, however, he could win.

American Betty Robinson: first-ever Gold Medalist in track (1928)
American Betty Robinson: first-ever Gold Medalist in track (1928)

Muscle mass and attendant upper-body strength and leg power are clear advantages for male sprinters – in considerable degree a consequence of high testosterone – although not so much for distance runners. There’s a greater likelihood of a cross-over athlete in, say, the 5000 meters, especially so since – because of body type and training – some of those men are already low-T, although still – as my physician friend says – probably not low enough to qualify him as a her.

In the 2012 London Games, a 5000-meter runner who finished dead last in his preliminary heat in the men’s competition (and did not advance out of the preliminary heats) ran a 14:41:11. The eventual Gold Medalist in the women’s race, Meseret Dafar of Ethiopia, ran 15:04:25. This means this “slowest” man would have bested Ms. Dafar by about 200 meters – by half a lap of the track.

The prospect of crossover athletes (even, let’s be blunt, of cross-dressing ones) may seem the latest step in the new campaign for “gender” equality – except it’s not entirely new. A man named Richard Raskin (b. 1934), an ophthalmologist from New York, had been a heck of an athlete as a young man: he got an offer from the Yankees and was captain of the tennis team at Yale. Dr. Raskin had begun cross-dressing while an Eli and called himself Renée (French for reborn), and at the age of 41 had sex-reassignment surgery.

A year later (1976), the “rechristened” Renée Richards applied to play in the U.S. Open as a woman. The United States Tennis Association refused. Richards sued and won. As one doctor who supported Richards’ court case testified: “the removal of the testes. . .decreases tremendously the male hormones in the blood and results in a decreased muscular mass,” which in turn leads to the emergence of a muscle/fat balance “within the female norm.” Science speaks, although Richards’ serve remained dominating.

But remember that the IOC isn’t talking about admitting just post-op transsexuals into competition.

To be very clear about one thing: Renée Richards did not have reassignment surgery in order to compete successfully against “weaker” women. “How hungry for tennis success must you be,” Dr. Richards said recently, “to have your penis chopped off in pursuit of it?” That can apply nicely to all sports. Richards disagrees with the IOC’s recent decision and would ban male-to-female athletes in their twenties who’ll not have had time to undergo that gradual process of change referred in the doctor’s testimony during her court case: the masculine body becoming more feminine.

I can’t say what Richards’ opinion is of the prospect of a transgender Olympic athlete who has not undergone surgical reassignment, but it can, perhaps, be deduced from this:

It’s ironic [Richards says] that everyone has tried so hard to keep a level playing field – from corked bats to doping – but now the IOC has come up with a decision that defies fairness in a similar vein. Sex-reassignment surgery [really all of transgender transitioning] is based on putting materials into your body.

Life’s a mystery in so very many ways, and God’s love touches every single man and woman. We know this from Scripture, which, however, also instructs us: “God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

Why, please tell me, can’t we let those natural, genetic categories rule the Olympic Games? Why wreck a century of progress in women’s athletics? Why embrace flimsy political correctness? Enough with the Promethean nonsense!

NOTE: Here’s an update from July 2, 2016. -ABM

Brad Miner

Brad Miner

Brad Miner is senior editor of The Catholic Thing, senior fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute, and Board Secretary of Aid to the Church In Need USA. He is a former Literary Editor of National Review. His new book, Sons of St. Patrick, written with George J. Marlin, is now on sale. The Compleat Gentleman, is available on audio.

  • ForChristAlone

    All these permutations that pertain to qualifications for participation gives me a migraine. The “Games” are just so much hype. The Games began to lose their lustre for me in Munich when terrorists killed Israeli athletes. Then the hero of later games, Bruce Jenner, alleges to have become a woman. Pardon me, but I’ll sit out the Games of the future. It just ain’t worth it.

  • Veritas

    The Olympics, and most all sports at their highest level are already tainted by world records and performances altered by performance enhancing drugs. This will certainly be just another chapter in this parody.

    Those countries that have made a habit of doping will be the new leaders in trans competition, and women’s world records will be rewritten, but it’s all hype and marketing for more viewership/interest anyway, since many of those records are already unreachable by “clean” athletes.

    The real losers here, as usual, are women themselves. That feminists have not recognized or assailed this enmasse as disguised misogyny shows they are blinded by whatever is their true ideology

  • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

    Okay. It is an absurd but expected problem in sports. What truly frightens is, in this increasingly ‘progressive’ politico cultural climate an openly gay transvestite or transgender president.

  • Howard Kainz

    Welcome to the Brave New World!

  • Diane

    World gone absolutely crazy! Pray for the future of the children. God help them through the abyss.

  • Quo Vadis

    Decades of liberal, progressive infestation of society slowly erodes every aspect of society. On Sunday morning, EWTN has episodes of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen’s program “Life is Worth Living” .

    This past Sunday he spoke about Communism and moral decay of society. And this was a program I believe was done in the fifty’s or early 60’s ! How much further have we come….

  • givelifeachance2

    Insults women. Feminists project their own apparent desires to be a doormat. Boycott the female games they were never women’s strong suit anyway.

  • Beth

    My middle school children swim competitively. All of the above is just sickening, maddening, and certainly yet another cross to bear. Who knew that Olympic trials on Sundays would lead to these truly monstrous times?

  • Rusty

    Why is this surprising? The sports business is an entertainment business. Can’t you see the wagering possibilities in Vegas?

    Except for hockey, it’s been years since I have paid much attention to the spectacle they call the Olympics anyway.

  • The whole idea of the Olympics stems back to homosexual human-body worshiping Greece anyway, so why should we be astonished that this is just around the corner?

  • Jhawk77

    This is just another example of our culture’s decline. The so-called sexual revolution may be seen by women as a victory for feminism, but it was and continues to be an avenue for sexual license for men who don’t have to face the consequences of their behavior. The decision by the IOC clearly favors men who want to chemically or physically “reassign” themselves so that they can compete with women. I doubt if there will be any women who will compete in the Olympics as men.

  • mrteachersir

    Are they going to re-award the women’s gold to a Spanish hurdler who won the Women’s 100m Hurdles but had her legitimate medal taken from her because testing revealed she had XY chromosomes but was biologically a female? If they won’t then all this is just meaningless…

  • Fr. Kloster

    I remember coaching an 8th grade basketball team when I was a curate at a parish in Connecticut in the 1990’s. We entered a boy’s basketball tournament. In the tournament, a team had 4 girls on their team. At the time, I was very upset by the nonchalant response of the tournament officials when I protested. The team started the girls against us because we were one of the less talented teams. It was a bit of gamesmanship I did not appreciate by the less than cordial other coach. I told my boys to pretend that they were playing against boys and briskly move the girls out of the lane at any opportunity; in short to be very physical with them. We started embarrassing them by scoring almost every time down the court. The other team quickly put their starting boys in the game and came back to beat us.

    Little did I know that that was small potatoes compared to what is going on now. The society is obsessed with an absolute equality of the sexes which cannot exist anyway.

    • Beth

      We pulled our 5th grade son from wrestling because….you guessed it….girls in the league. No way around it. A shame. He was a good wrestler. Don’t get why parents would WANT their girls to wrestle boys?

  • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

    I tend to look beyond the immediate issue at the broader ramifications. Brad addresses the glaring issue of gender change in sports that is also going to radically affect military life, and as it will apparently proliferate question the relevance of male female identity. This has not happened in human history. It is alluded to by Howard Kainz’ in reference to Brave New World. What is driving it are advances in amoral scientific research and medical technology coupled with political systems premised to defend liberty as the right to choose sexual identity. We can isolate the loss of faith in Christ as a major factor. We do not see it seriously affecting protagonist Islam who correctly sees it as decadence. The sudden radical change in Christianity is so breathtakingly wide and evil that for those of us who hold fast to faith in Christ have to consider some other influence beyond science and politics that points to the Father of Lies.

  • The world is sick and getting sicker.

  • Dave Fladlien

    I think Brad has done an admirable job of reviewing the arguments here. From my perspective, the perspective of someone who has been in and around serious sports much of his life, and is in a sports business today, I’ll offer these thoughts —

    I learned as a youngster whose Dad was trying out for the Olympics that it is 50% politics. Decades later, I used to talk with a young woman who worked nights at the local 711 store while trying out in synchronized swimming. She was very upset one night because she and her partner had, as she expressed it, missed a berth at the Pan American Games for “political reasons”. I told her at the time. if you’re not doing the politics, you’re only doing half of the job.

    So what’s the bottom line here? Whether we like it or not, it is political. If we don’t like the way it is going, then we need to encourage Christian men and women to get in and compete, and Christian coaches and donors to get in and coach and get in and be donors, and complain about how it is being done. If enough athletes, and enough coaches, and enough big-money donors object to it, it will change. Otherwise, it won’t. Turning our backs or just sitting and griping will accomplish nothing; bringing Christ to the arena of competition will — at least eventually. I’ll admit that I’d have a real problem with boys and girls wrestling each other too, but in most other sports, it should be possible to continue to compete. If we want to change things, we need to do that.

    • Fr. Kloster

      That position of boys and girls competing in the same sport is totally untenable. Maybe, by your beliefs, it’s true that men are purposely being fed estrogen these days.

      You may get one really talented girl, but she will never be better than the best of the boys. There is a reason there are no women in professional men’s sports (even though the intelligentsia and the media have really been pushing that goal). Just think of it this way. What if boys started wholesale invasions of girl’s sports? The girls’s leagues would quickly turn into boy’s leagues. They used to say “what is good for the goose is good for the gander.” Now we need to also say that “what is good for the gander is good for the goose as well.”

      • Dave Fladlien

        How does this have anything to do with what I said? I didn’t say I agree with what is happening, only that we won’t change it by complaining or hiding. And I’ll stand by that. Nor is what you say universally true. In auto racing women compete right alongside men. And the women do quite well. One of these times a woman will drive the winning car at Indy. And I think that will be a good thing. It depends on the sport.

        I think you are making a lot of assumptions about what I believe, and a lot of sweeping generalizations about sports, which are of only limited validity. I think it is very appropriate to separate women and men in wrestling, but not in auto racing. We have to be very careful in these things, but most of all (and again I agree with the woman below who pulled her son out of wrestling, but only because it is a sport with serious physical contact), if we want to change something, in general we have to get in, not out. We won’t change the world by hiding.

        Please don’t make sweeping assumptions about women’s participation in sports based on trans-gender issues. Women in sports is a totally different issue from trans-gender issues in sports. They are not at all related.

        • Fr. Kloster

          My comment actually has a lot to do with what you said and then repeated in your subsequent post. There were no “sweeping assumptions” as that was not warranted nor fathomed.

          First post: “I’ll admit that I’d have a real problem with boys and girls wrestling each other too, but in most other sports, it should be possible to continue to compete. If we want to change things, we need to do that.”

          Second post: “One of these times a woman will drive the winning car at Indy. And I think that will be a good thing. It depends on the sport.”

          Indy car has a lot to do with stamina and strength. I think you will be waiting a long time for a female Indy winner unless she was a he.

          I made no assumptions about what you wrote. It’s all typed above and I disagree with your conclusion. I don’t think there is anything good about combining the sexes in competition. Again, let’s say that men were allowed to compete in another sport people seem to think women are as good as men: golf for example. Let men tee it up in women’s golf tournaments and see how long the women’s league remains a women’s league! It will become devoid of women almost overnight!

    • Howard

      When I was a child, the Olympics seemed to mean something: they were a competition between the Western Bloc and the Eastern Bloc, between the Free World and Communism — a substitute for war that was several billion times more civilized. All that’s gone now, and instead what we have is one “Dream Team” of NBA all-stars after another lining up to get their gold, or sports that practically no one cares enough about to watch more than once every four years under the best of circumstances, all for the greater glory of the corporate sponsors. As a result, my back has been turned to it for decades. Sorry, I feel no duty to suddenly start watching in the vague (and probably vain) hope that these events can be Christianized at some point decades in the future.

  • DLink

    The interchangeable gender is little more than a delusion and there is a diagnostic code for that. To enable this delusion is irregular in the extreme and there is a sin for that. The recent scandals in FIFA have shown that divorcing sport from morality destroys both and the human condition is the worse for it.