Sunday, October 15, 2006

Mixed Gender Sports Teams

There's an interesting editorial by the Eagle-Tribune on sports in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where a high school girl playing field hockey broke her finger after some physical contact with a male player from another team. The male player was the only boy playing in the game, and one of only three boys in the conference who play field hockey. The editorial blames an overly "politically correct" application of Title IX by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) for endangering the health and safety of female athletes, and seems to advocate for boys and girls not playing any sports against one another.

The Eagle-Tribune's editorial raises a valid concern in terms of making sure all boys and girls playing high school sports are adequately protected. However, I think there are a couple of interesting things to consider here before rushing to judgment. First, the MIAA's policy on mixed-gender sports teams (see page 37 of the handbook) doesn't mention Title IX, but mentions, I think fairly, that girls and boys ought to have the same opportunities to play sports that they are interested in. Second, the MIAA requires all mixed-gender teams to notify opposing teams 72 hours in advance that they are a mixed-gender team. Opposing teams have the right to opt out of playing against a mixed-gender team if they think that there's a legitimate safety issue involved (and the MIAA guidelines spell out what those safety issues might be). It seems like the MIAA has done a pretty commendable job in trying to balance the competiting interests of expanding opportunities for high school students to play sports while also protecting the physical well-being of the athletes.

Beyond that, I also wonder what the Eagle-Tribune editorialist thinks of girls and boys playing sports together at all. When I was in high school (admittedly, more than a few years ago), our physical education classes were mixed, and we played all manner of sports, both contact and non-contact, together. Any student who felt unsafe playing a contact sport was not compelled to play (there were always alternate non-contact activities available, such as weightlifting or jogging).

Admittedly it's no fun breaking a finger while playing sports, no matter who your opponent is. But that doesn't mean a knee-jerk reaction against boys and girls playing sports together is the appropriate reaction.


Anonymous said...

It seems to me that fingers get broken in field hockey. By both female and male players. I think it is a mistake to overeact, and I am actually a bit surprized by the rules about notifying opposing teams if the other team is "mixed gender". I think plenty is being done, and enough is enough.

Anonymous said...

hmmm...having played field hockey and had a thumb broken, a toe broken, hit in the neck when my opponent scooped the ball w/in 1 foot of me...all before male players were allowed--it strikes me as an over-reaction. field hockey, when played properly, it is not a contact sport. but, like any sport--a person can get hurt. In each of the instances I relayed earlier--my injury was a direct result of a lack of skill, either on my opponent's part (thumb and neck) or my own (my toe). It was contact with a stick or a ball--not body to body.