Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Unanswered questions

Nearly 40 years after Title IX, we are so accustomed to stories about girls playing on boys’ teams or participating in boys’ leagues that usually these cases go by unnoticed. Once in a while, however, these stories appear on the web because a team or an athlete will refuse to “compete against a girl.”

Earlier this year, a 14-year-old boy forfeited a wrestling match because he found it inappropriate to wrestle against a girl in a tournament. Issues about a girls’ place in sports arise most frequently in the context of the “traditionally masculine” sports, as these are regarded as a dangerous place for girls .

Most recently, a coach of a junior varsity football team threatened to forfeit a game because the opposing team had a girl on the roster. Mina Johnson, who is the first girl to play for her school, the Southampton Academy, decided to sit out so her team can play.

Stories such as this one raise important questions about cultural values and attitudes toward girls and women in sports. These conversations have been going on for decades, fueled by instances such as this football controversy.

The curious dimension of these conversations is the attempt to be progressive by taking a “let her play” approach, yet systemic discrimination is often uncontested. Phrases such as “she was just one of the guys” normalize the male as the athlete and suggest that a girl needs to become a “guy” in order to gain athletic credibility. And this is supposed to be a compliment.

My concern, besides the language, is interpretation of what occurred after Johnson decided not to play.

The news articles that popped up when I Googled Mina Johnson had two themes in common: wearing pink appeared to be a symbol of activism and Southampton Academy's 60-0 win showed that the "good" will ultimately conquer the "evil."

Articles, such as the one found on the Bleacher Report site, point out that Johnson’s team wore pink armbands in support of breast cancer awareness month, and is certainly not the only one on the web which claims that pink also signified support for Johnson. It is unclear if the players actually interpreted it as such, but that hardly matters. The writers are putting two completely unrelated causes together additionally to failing to address a larger issue by reducing it to a mere color.

The articles in my web search also placed heavy emphasis on the score of the game that Johnson sat out. Johnson’s team won 60-0, which apparently proved the point that the other team was wrong to threaten to forfeit. I wonder what would have happened if Johnson's team had lost. What would have the the score "proven" then? Since Southampton Academy "demolished" the other team, as the San Francisco Chronicle blog post put it, the outcome of the game served as an indicator of justice.

So next time there is a case of discrimination, we should just wear pink and let out our frustrations out by beating “those people?”

There are so many questions to ask, yet an armband and domination appear to be satisfying our need for an answer while Johnson sits on the sidelines.

Is that really the best we can do?

-- Dunja Antunovic

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