Let Them Play Together: Gender in Sports

In the American sports landscape, talk about gender and how it relates has been widespread over at least the last decade. First, with women seeking equality in sports, and now with how transgender people play in and how that affects fairness. While it wouldn’t be popular with some people at first, there is a simple solution. Let everybody play together. 

The larger idea here, in order to eliminate doubts about fairness, is to create a true meritocracy in sports. Make it so the best players play at the highest levels regardless of gender. While this will present challenges for some, if done in the right way, it would also give us landmark examples of what is possible for women in sports when given the opportunity.

A Few Reasons the Genders Could Play Together

Success in the United States is ideally predicated on merit. While we see everyday that connections, intergenerational wealth, and social status make that impossible to make a full-reality, it’s something we should strive for and that is still an essential part of the American dream. If you work hard and show your value, then you should be rewarded. If we’re going to extend those values to sports then we have to give people the platform to show their abilities.

There’s No Separate But Equal

While I’m not saying we make this a legally mandated affair, we already have political precedent that says separate, inherently, can never be equal. Brown vs. The Board of Education established that, and it’s true, especially when it comes to things that are affected by the public. Women’s sports will never be equal to men’s with the widespread perception that the talent level in men’s sports is just better. Men and women playing alongside each other will either help lessen that opinion or at the very least show that the gap isn’t what some might think.

Tiered Systems of Grouping

One way to keep the competition fair and competitive and to ensure that the outcome is based on merit for both the teams and individuals involved is to have competition be based on something similar to the Premier League in soccer. In the world’s best league for the most popular sport, there are different tiers of teams that give essentially any average joe the chance to compete their way onto the highest stage. We could do the same with our sports if we were going to switch to a predominantly co-ed format.

As a team from one tier racks up the losses, they become in danger of losing their spot to the best team from the league or tier below them. Assuming coaches are still picking their teams as they always have, expanding the player pool will eventually force coaches to consider those of the other gender in order to get the best overall team from level to level.

Whether or not there’s ever an equal number of women at the highest level of the most popular sports, opening up the competition in this way at least eliminates a lot of the possibility for discrimination. However, if you consider all the times where skill and smarts makes up for athleticism in sports and certain women we see who are clearly more athletic than most men, then it seems inevitable that at some point there will be women who prove they can play alongside men at the highest level. 

Tiered grouping also eliminates the need to discuss fairness as it relates to transgender people in sports, and because cisgender men and women don’t play together in any controlled settings, we don’t have the empirical evidence to make those arguments anyway.

Benefits Would Go Beyond the Field

In a world where we increasingly struggle to relate to each other, encouraging more mix-gendered leagues and sports could help us do it a little better. Many of us have stories and experiences where we were able to relate to teammates of all different types; in ways we wouldn’t have been able to without sports. This just adds another layer to who that might be.

While some proponents of the traditional formats might balk at mixed-gendered teams, there are some traditional reasons it might be good as well. With people interacting less in person then they used to, this could be a way for parents to ensure that their children have up to 18 years to interact with the opposite gender in a healthy, non-threatening, face-to-face environment.

Take the Guesswork Out of Equality in Sports

Extending mix-gendered sports leagues through the educational system and up into the pros is a radical idea to be sure, but one that needs only simple acceptance. Other than that, there aren’t many obstacles. Unlike many major changes, it might actually cost less time and resources than running them as we do now. Most importantly, it would create more equality, in a way where there’d be a lot less room for debate. Debate on who’s good, who simply has an advantage, and if someone’s being discriminated against.

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