A Defense of Female Sports

By Lesley Davis
February 9, 2021

Given the cultural revolution in which we currently find ourselves, it should not be surprising that we are having debates over the once-obvious question of whether it is fair for biological males to compete against biological females in sports. Senator Angela Hill (R., Picayune) is leading the charge in Mississippi to protect the civil rights of our girls and women to compete in female sports by sponsoring Senate Bill 2536.  Entitled the Fairness Act, this bill would ensure that only biological females compete on public school girls’ sports teams in our state.

This issue is of particular importance to me because many years ago, I was an athlete. I played four sports growing up, and I started my freshman year on the women’s basketball team at Mississippi State University. My high school basketball team was nationally ranked and finished first in Mississippi my junior year and second my senior year. We routinely practiced against our school’s varsity boys’ team, which had nowhere near our record or ranking, in order to improve our skills. 

Despite our being at the top of our game in high school women’s sports with an All-American player and numerous others who went on to play college ball, the boys’ team handily beat us every time. Most of their starters could dunk a basketball. None of us on the girls’ team could.

Even now, no one makes a serious claim that biological boys/men in their natural state do not have a natural athletic advantage over biological women. Allyson Felix is probably the fastest female sprinter in the world, holding more records than Usain Bolt. Her best time for the 400 meter is 49.26 seconds, but just in 2017, that time was beaten over 15,000 times by boys and men. In other words, thousands and thousands of male athletes ran better than the fastest woman in the world.

Similar lopsided results occur in tennis. Venus and Serena Williams once boasted they could beat any male tennis player ranked outside the TOP 200.  In 1998, a male ranked 203rd took them up on their wager and handily beat them both decisively, 6-1 over Serena and 6-2 over Venus. What if we never knew of a Serena and Venus Williams because they never had the space to compete and advance to the top of their sport?

As a little girl, I was inspired by the few female athletes that were featured prominently, females such as Coach Pat Head Summit, Cheryl Miller, Jackie-Joyner Kersey, Florence (Flo Jo) Griffith Joyner, and Chris Everett, and Martina Navratilova.  Fortunately, a lot has changed in female sports since I played.  For one, back in the ‘80’s, only our parents, high school coaches, friends, and boyfriends sparsely filled Humphrey Coliseum to watch our games. Today, at least prior to COVID, you can hardly get a ticket to the Mississippi State University Women’s home basketball games. In fact, the facility attendance record was recently set and is held by the MSU women’s team.

The incredible growth in women’s sports over the past almost 50 years has been in part the result of the enactment of Title IX in 1972, a federal law specifically designed to create equal opportunities and access for females in education and athletics.

Before Title IX, an estimated 3 percent of girls in America participated in sports; today, about two in five (more than 40 percent) of girls play sports. The number of women playing college sports has increased by more than 600 percent. The impact Title IX has had on young girls and adult female athletes is immeasurable.  I for one am incredibly grateful for the added confidence, perseverance, work ethic, leadership skills, teamwork, and countless other life lessons sports gave me. It is not a coincidence that 98 percent of female CEOs played competitive sports. Competitive athletic experiences for young women carry over into their professional lives.

Yet, all of this hard-fought progress women have made in athletics could be eroded if our state lawmakers fail to ensure that our girls have a level playing field. This issue has been thrust into the limelight by the transgender rights campaign that is sweeping our nation.

Over the last few years in Connecticut, for instance, two biological males who had never distinguished themselves when competing on male track teams came to identify as girls/women. They were allowed to join their respective schools’ girls’ track teams and compete in track meets against biological girls. It should come as no surprise that they dominated girls’ track by winning 15 state championships, in the process stripping away 85 opportunities for biological females to advance to higher levels in girls’ track. Along the way, they broke 17 girls’ state track records, records no girl will likely ever get close to.

I have compassion for trans athletes’ struggles, and I understand their desire to compete in sports. Yet, we can’t pit one group against the other. We must be able to have honest, biology-based discussions on the matter without name-calling, fear of being cancelled, and without assuming evil motives of those with whom we disagree. 

Too many today are afraid to state the obvious: that male-bodied athletes competing with biological women put females at an inherent and fundamentally unfair competitive disadvantage. We must not be forced to dismiss these most basic biological facts so as to bend the knee to a fashionable social revolution. We must not be afraid to state what is so clearly true: that this revolution will almost certainly destroy many of the gains of female athletes over the past 50 years.

Trans athletes’ desire to compete in sports must not come at the expense of women’s rights to compete, to be safe, and to win. When we ignore the undeniable biological advantage that males have over females, girls are harmed, harmed by the loss of medals and trophies, loss of records, loss of podium spots, and loss of college recruitment and scholarships, not to mention what, for some women, are quite lucrative sports-related careers. In what are referred to as “power sports,” girls have been and will be severely physically harmed.  To use one of the favorite phrases of the left, where are the “safe spaces” for young girls and women? Where is the concern for their physical and mental health and the character development that comes from competition?

Physicians like Michelle Cretella have been stating the obvious, that men and women are profoundly genetically different, and that no hormone therapy or body-altering surgery can reverse these biological changes. “[M]en and women have—at a minimum—6,500 genetic differences between us.  And this impacts every cell of our bodies—our organ systems, how diseases manifest, how we diagnose, and even treat in some cases.”

Fortunately, at least for now, most Americans see past the claims of today’s cultural revolutionaries and hold on to the science that dictates that biological men and women are profoundly physically different, even after hormone treatment.  They can also see where women’s sports will be in the years to come, if girls and women’s sports are not protected. Polling last year in ten battle-ground states on this issue revealed that 75 percent of those polled were against biological males competing in female sports.  Additionally, recent polling in Mississippi by Mason-Dixon demonstrated that 79 percent of Mississippi voters support legislation like Senator Hill’s. This includes the support of 87 percent of Republicans, 65 percent of Democrats, and 83 percent of independents.

So where does this leave Mississippi girls and women athletes? We cannot look to Washington to protect the civil rights of these young girls and women in Mississippi. Mississippi is one of only ten states that has no policy addressing the participation of biological male athletes in girls’ high school sports. Some of the track-running high school girls from Connecticut have filed suit in a case that is expected to make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Their case is strengthened by laws in any states that have been enacted to protect women’s sports.

As a woman and former athlete, I am grateful to Senator Hill for her leadership on this matter, despite the inevitable and vicious attacks that will come from the revolutionaries on the Left who do not desire to solve the problem together. Mississippians need to know that, if passed, The Fairness Act will protect the young girls and women in our state.  We as a nation and a state have made too much progress for women’s rights over many decades to now watch it all be taken away.

Lesley Andress Davis the Executive Vice President of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy.


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