By now, most of us have heard of 13-year-old pitching phenom Mo’ne Davis, who caught the world’s attention at last summer’s little league world series by delivering a show-stopping complete game shutout. Against all boys. What made her performance so fascinating, in my eyes, is that she expected to pitch that well, even though she was pitching against all boys at the highest level of little league baseball. We have seen Michelle Wie compete in men’s golf tournaments, but rarely do we see a performance by a female while competing against men quite like Mo’ne Davis’s.
Unless your name is Samantha Gordon. Because in that case, outcompeting and running all over boys is just another day at the office. If you have never heard of Sam Gordon before, I suggest you get used to hearing her name a lot because her football highlights are going to be shown on SportsCenter for years to come. Not to mention a picture of her on the cover of Wheaties. And she’s only 11 years old, for crying out loud. (If I recall correctly, I was concerned about not spilling any Wheaties; not being on the flipping cover of it). For those that don’t know about Samantha or her unbelievable football talent, her highlights first went viral about two years ago and resurfaced about few weeks ago. And just like Mo’ne, Samantha was playing with all boys.
But why don’t we see women compete in men’s sports more often? And why can’t women’s sports gain the popularity that comes with men’s athletics?
I think the answer is quite simple, although some people, will call me sexist for saying it. The bottom line is that women are not as strong or as fast as men and as a result their product on the field is not as exciting as that of men’s athletics. Another problem is that even when we witness women athletes who are physically bigger and just overall better than the rest of their competition, we may begin to question their sex.
There are several examples of female athletes who have been questioned about their sex, such as Britney Griner, Serena Williams, and Caster Semenya, but I want to specifically talk about Semenya because her case was taken to a whole different level. It really is baffling how, as a society, we cannot just enjoy greatness. Whenever someone reaches a certain level, we begin to question their greatness and how they achieved it, men or women alike. For instance, in professional baseball, we immediately believe a player has taken performance enhancing drugs if he starts to hit more home runs than usual, rather than accept the fact that the individual simply improved his power through hard work. And when women become too big or just too good at a sport, we begin to question their physical stature.
Now that I have gone on a tangent, let me get back to Semenya. In his New Yorker article “Either/Or” from November 30, 2009 Ariel Levy chronicles the unlikely story of South African track star Caster Semenya. By the age of 17, Semenya was one of the best female runners in the world. However, at the 2009 world championships, her sex was questioned because she had some masculine characteristics and had made drastic improvements in her running times. Semenya was required to go through gender testing, but ultimately she was allowed to return to running. Personally, I was outraged by this story. The IAAF had very little stance to go through with gender testing, but they took advantage of a young girl who didn’t know any better. Just because a competitor is better than the rest of the field gives officials no right to question an athlete’s sex. Should we test Mo’ne Davis because she is better than her fellow male competitors? Or should we question Samantha Gordon because she is dominating the boys? That would be absolutely absurd. But, what would have happened in women’s sports if the IAAF banned Semenya because she had slightly elevated testosterone levels? Who knows the precedent it would have set for future testing in women’s athletics.
I will now attempt to answer my second question of why women’s athletics are not as popular as men’s athletics. I believe there are several reasons for this. First, women’s athletics don’t have the flare or show-stopping performances that men’s sports create. The degree of difficulty of women’s sports is just not even close to the level of the men. A great of example of this is that very few women ever dunk in women’s basketball. However, the high-flying dunks are an essential part of men’s basketball that helps attract fans. This is just the reality of sports in general, considering most women who are sports fans would prefer to watch men’s sports than women’s sports because they are more exciting. The second reason women’s sports cannot have not gained the momentum that men’s sports have is that before very recently, women athletes did not have the same opportunities that men had. Before the enactment of Title IX in 1972, women did not have the same resources as men did when it came to sports. This bill has made significant improvements in equality for women in sports, but in his political work The Playing Fields of Eton, Mika LaVaque-Manty makes a very important point regarding Title IX. He says that Title IX gives women the opportunity to pursue a sport they want to play in, but in no way does it mean that people will show up to watch the event. Even today, very few spectators are seen at women’s college sports or at the professional level. Women’s sports has a come a long way since the inception of Title IX, but there is no way they will ever reach the level of men’s sports.
The world of sports needs more young female athletes like Mo’ne Davis and Samantha Gordon. All sports fans love to see an underdog triumph or an unlikely story. The breakthrough of a female athlete into a men’s sports could potentially elevate women’s sports to a height that we have never seen before. And don’t be surprised if one of those athletes is Mo’ne or Samantha.