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Thursday, September 21, 2023
Sept. 21, 2023

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Jayne: Finding the limit to being woke

By , Columbian Opinion Page Editor

To be honest, I try to be woke as much as possible. While the phrase itself has become a pejorative and a target for scorn in conservative media circles, it seems that being woke is better than being asleep or oblivious or uninformed.

In other words, there are benefits to being aware of what is going on around us and the concerns of others. Living in a cocoon of exclusion belies our fundamental humanity.

That being said, as a recovering sports editor and as somebody who has spent his entire life immersed in athletics, it is difficult to find a compassionate middle ground in the growing debate over transgender athletes.

With the issue coming to a head, the NCAA this week passed a new policy allowing each sport to determine the eligibility of transgender athletes. Urgency was demanded by questions about Lia Thomas, a swimmer at the University of Pennsylvania.

Thomas competed for three years on the Penn men’s team. After undergoing more than two years of hormone replacement therapy, she is now competing for the women’s team and has posted the fastest times of any female collegiate swimmer in two events this season.

John J. DeGioia, president of Georgetown University and chair of the NCAA Board of Governors, said: “We are steadfast in our support of transgender student-athletes and the fostering of fairness across college sports. It is important that NCAA member schools, conferences and college athletes compete in an inclusive, fair, safe and respectful environment and can move forward with a clear understanding of the new policy.”

Indeed, inclusion, fairness and respect are essential to a civilized society. We are all better off in a climate where transgender people are gradually gaining acceptance — if begrudgingly in some circles. Fights for equality and acceptance are never easy, and the quest for transgender equality is no less important than ongoing battles for racial equality and gender equality and basic fairness across all aspects of society.

If somebody wants to live their life as a man or a woman regardless of their birth gender, it makes no impact on my life. I used to work with a transgender person, and after some initial surprise at their transition, I realized that they were very good at their job and that had not changed. If I respected their ability as one gender, their decision to live differently did not alter that fact.

Yet, while we can be accepting and inclusive, questions about transgender athletes too often ignore some basic biological facts. Men, on average, are larger, stronger and have more muscle mass – traits that are advantageous in most sports. Competing against athletes who were born as men and have trained for years is a disadvantage for women, regardless of whether or not somebody is undergoing hormone therapy.

At the high school level, Washington has roughly 225,000 student-athletes in a given year. The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association policy states, “Athletes will participate in programs consistent with their gender identity or the gender most consistently expressed” (emphasis is in the WIAA Handbook).

The WIAA does not track how many athletes seek to compete as a gender different from their birth, but assistant executive director BJ Kuntz wrote in an email last year: “Based on the increase in phone calls from athletic directors navigating this process with students in the past 12 months, it is a fair assumption that participation has increased in Washington.”

In other words, it is a question that needs to be answered. And while high school administrators should strive for an environment in which everybody is encouraged to participate in athletics, there also must be attention to fairness for female athletes. As the father of a former high school and college athlete, I don’t think she would have been thrilled with competition in the pole vault or on the volleyball court from somebody who was born a male.

Because there are limits to being woke. And we bump into them when they defy common sense.