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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Women’s Athletics Gets Hit With a Chilling Club

During college I took a couple of Women’s Studies electives that looked at issues of equality and gender disparity.  I learned a lot in those courses and became more acutely aware of both the subtle and overt oppressions, objectification and challenges that women have endured and continue to face today.

Transgender golfer Lana Lawless
Not the least of which is economic. Census statistics released September 16, 2010 show that women still earn less than 78 percent of what men earn for the same job, based on the median earnings of full-time, year-round workers in 2009.

This single data point clearly shows that women are still treated unfairly within our culture.

While I’m not a militant feminist, I have ardently supported policy initiatives that help level the playing field for nearly 51 percent of the U.S. population. Policies such as the defunct Equal Rights Amendment and the landmark Title IX law strove to get it right.

Title IX was a piece of pro-female sports legislation that was signed into law in 1972 and it simply states:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance."

This law was required because up until its passage, many girls and women were limited in the athletic choices that were available to them at the schools they attended. Since 1972, there has been a virtual explosion of sports-related choices for amateur and professional females of all ages in this country. 

As a father of two young daughters, that is an incredibly good thing.

In an article at, former Olympian Dr. Dot Richardson cites several reasons why she believes that athletics are beneficial for girls.

“We know that playing sports make women healthier.  They’re less likely to smoke, drink, use drugs and experience unwanted pregnancies.  Studies also link sports participation to reduced incidences of breast cancer and osteoporosis later in life.  These benefits for women and society alone should be reason to keep Title IX strong. I think the most important issue today is continuing to prepare for the future by tackling the challenges of enforcing Title IX issues.  It’s still crucial for girls and women not only to participate in sport, but to remain active in supporting the cause.”

I applaud Dr. Richardson for her clarion cry to support the cause and other positive female role models. Especially woman who have successfully jumped the gender gap to play against professional male athletes at the highest level of competition, such as current IndyCar and NASCAR driver Danica Patrick; Manon Rhéaume who played goalie in the NHL for the Tampa Bay Lightning and golfing great Annika Sörenstam, who in 2003 became the first woman to compete in a men’s PGA event in 45 years.

These women have literally and figuratively moved the athletic ball forward for females by demonstrating that despite physical disparities, such as strength and muscle mass when compared with the male counterparts, women can compete with men.

Which brings us to case of Lana Lawless [see photo insert above]. Lawless is a retired police officer, current bartender, recreational golfer and former male who had gender reassignment surgery in 2005.

In 2008, Lawless competed in an LPGA longest-drive competition and won it with a 335 yard shot off the tee. Subsequently, Lawless sued the LPGA for a rule that required its competitors be “female at birth.” According to Lawless, that LPGA rule prevented the transgender golfer from qualifying for the Women’s U.S. Open.

On December 1, 2010, the LPGA rules committee changed the rule to allow Lawless to try and compete against women.

Powerful looking swing for Lawless
I have a problem with this because it’s a step back for women’s athletics and has a potentially chilling effect on the benefits of Title IX. The Lawless decision has now established precedent for other legal claims which could be made by men who couldn’t make the cut in professional male sports, get the required surgical procedures and then have a second shot to succeed within the female ranks.

Taken to the extreme, what if a washed up NBA player such as Allan Iverson wanted to play in the WNBA? Or what about a low-ranked golfer who was at risk of losing his PGA tour card for underperformance and wanted to take a swing at the LPGA?

Those ex-male athletes could conceivably take a spot that should have gone to an otherwise deserving female athlete. That is simply not fair to more than 51% of the population.

You might say these scenarios I laid out are absurd, but never underestimate the allure of fame and endorsements that accompany professional athletes. Case in point, Lawless has a sponsor that’s riding the legal publicity wave rather than the golfer’s actual ability.

If Lawless really wants to advance the cause of transgender individuals and make a resounding political statement – then Lawless should follow in the footsteps of Danica, Manon, Annika - and compete against the men in the PGA who still share Lawless' Y-chromosome and its 60-million base pairs of genetic information, which can't be surgically removed.


  1. Hmm, this is a great conversation to have..there are many issues involved. I believe you've got us all thinking with this one!

  2. Very thought provoking! I'm going to share this on my FB page and see what response I get. I have A LOT of friends who are/were athletes and are professional sports fans!

  3. @Kim, crainal agitation - that's what I'm all about....

  4. @Steno, Thanks for the post! I'd be curious to hear what real athletes think about this legal trajectory....