The jump shot happened so quickly, so perfectly.
Your favorite player was in the air in a heartbeat, basketball in hand, wrist cocked. One flick and it was all swish, three points, just like that, and your team was ahead. So are you watching men's basketball or women's basketball? Or, as in the new book, "Fair Play" by Katie Barnes, should it really matter?
For sports fans, this may come as a surprise: we categorize sports according to gender.
Football, baseball, wresting: male sports. Gymnastics, volleyball: women's sports. And yet, one weekend spent cruising around television shows you that those sports are enjoyed by both men and women – but we question the sexuality of athletes who dare (gasp!) to cross invisible lines for a sport they love.
How did sports "become a flash point for a broader conversation..."?
Barnes takes readers back first to 1967, when Kathrine Switzer and Bobbi Gibb both ran in the Boston Marathon. It was the first time women had audaciously done so and while both finished the race, their efforts didn't sit well with the men who made the rules.
"Thirty-seven words" changed the country in 1972 when Title IX was signed, which guaranteed there'd be no discrimination in extracurricular events, as long as "Federal financial assistance" was taken. It guaranteed availability for sports participation for millions of girls in schools and colleges. It also "enshrine[d] protections for queer and transgender youth to access school sports."
So why the debate about competition across gender lines?
First, says Barnes, we can't change biology, or human bodies that contain both testosterone and estrogen, or that some athletes naturally have more of one or the other – all of which factor into
the debate. We shouldn't forget that women can and do compete with men in some sports, and they sometimes win. We shouldn't allow overinflated numbers of trans athletes to stand, and we shouldn't ignore the presence of transgender men in sports.
What we should do, Barnes says, is to "write a new story. One that works better."
Here are two facts: Nobody likes change. And everybody has an opinion.
Keep those two statements in mind when you read "Fair Play." They'll keep you calm in this debate, as will author Katie Barnes' lack of flame-fanning.
As a sports fan, an athlete, and someone who's binary, Barnes makes thing relatively even-keel in this book, which is a breath of fresh air in what's generally ferociously contentious. There's a good balance of science and social commentary here, and the many, many stories that Barnes shares are entertaining and informative, as well as illustrative. Readers will come away with a good understanding of where the debate lies.
But will this book make a difference?
Maybe. Much will depend on who reads and absorbs it. Barnes offers plenty to ponder but alas, you can lead a homophobic horse to water but you can't make it think. Still, if you've got skin in this particular bunch of games, find "Fair Play" and jump on it.
"Fair Play: How Sports Shape the Gender Debates" by Katie Barnes
c.2023, St. Martin's Press $29 304 pages