Sports are a concept almost as old as civilization itself. From the Olympics of ancient Greece, to the games of lacrosse and pitz played by indigenous peoples of the Americas, humanity has engaged in sport. Throughout history, sport has always been an integral part of our social experience. Participation in these physical pursuits has served many purposes, from simple exercise and play to forging and strengthening social bonds. Sports strengthen and inspire us. They encourage us to grow. Sport can be a battleground, both literally and figuratively, and in sport, conflict is resolved and statements are made.
There are many people today that bemoan the perceived politicization of sport – but politics and sports are inextricably intertwined and have been since their inception. When athletes make political statements, we listen to them. Politicians, coaches and commissions steer the conversation about what place sport holds in society, who benefits and how, and who is allowed to participate. The New York State Athletic Commission suspended the license of Muhammad Ali and stripped him of his heavyweight title for his stand against participation in the Vietnam war. More recently, the NFL blacklisted Colin Kaepernick for taking a knee during the national anthem as a form of protest to police killings of Black Americans.
And now, governors like Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis are spearheading the movement to prevent transgender children from participation in school sports. Under the guise of “safety” and “fairness” these politicians and the people they represent seek to deny trans children access to an incredibly important part of public life. Their arguments, however, deny scientific expertise and their intentions extend beyond supposed concern for women’s athletics. The same people insisting that excluding trans athletes is necessary for fairness and safety have no concern at all for the health and safety of trans people, and they demonstrate with their rhetoric who they feel deserves to be safe and who does not. Bills like TX HB 25, which was just signed into law by the Texas governor, Greg Abbott, are blatantly discriminatory and are part of a broader effort to erase trans people from public life.
Advocates for this discriminatory legislation will claim that trans girls should be kept out of female sports categories, citing the effects of testosterone on their athletic performance, but the very same people have pushed for bans on gender-affirming healthcare for transgender students, including the puberty blockers that would make this issue irrelevant.
In the past year, over a hundred anti-transgender bills have been introduced in US state legislatures. These bills seek to ban us not only from participating in sports but from accessing healthcare and public facilities like restrooms and locker rooms. Taken in context it becomes clear that bans on transgender participation in sports are only a piece of the overall strategy pursued by the Republican party to demonize and politicize transgender identity. From mythical “bathroom predators” to imaginary domination in sports, the political right has crafted a convenient enemy to unite behind.
While open discrimination against Black people and other racial and ethnic minorities has become less politically acceptable, the same tired tropes and dehumanizing arguments used to exclude non-white identities have now been applied to trans people. The same disgraceful examinations of bone structure and density once applied to Black athletes have been cut and pasted into think pieces against trans athletes. The fairytale of transgender women preying on cis women in bathrooms has echoes of reactionary fearmongering towards immigrants and Black men before that.
This exclusionary and inflammatory rhetoric should be unacceptable in the halls of government and the pages of public media, but the political right perceives transgender people as an easy target. The fact is that we are statistically underrepresented in sports. There is no widespread transgender dominance in any sport anywhere in the world.
The intentions of rightwing politicians like Abbott and DeSantis are clear. They are using transgender children as scapegoat and compromising their health and safety to score political points with their party and their constituents. Trans kids deserve equal access to sports. Trans people deserve equal access to public life. We deserve love and safety and inclusion, and make no mistake: we will win this fight, and history will not remember dinosaurs like Abbott and DeSantis kindly.
- Alana McLaughlin is a mixed martial arts athlete
This article is a repost from The Guardian