Thursday, December 12, 2013

Female Baseball Player Challenges Exclusion from Junior High Team

In Mesa, Arizona, after an eighth-grade girl named Jasmine Miles was excluded from her public school's baseball team, her grandfather filed a complaint with the school district. But the school district is still refusing to let her play, arguing that reserving baseball for boys is "in compliance with Title IX, as an equivalent team [i.e., softball] is offered for girls." 

I contend that the "softball defense" is a misinterpretation of the Title IX regulations about cross-over participation:
"...[W]here a recipient operates or sponsors a team in a particular sport for members of one sex but operates or sponsors no such team for members of the other sex, and athletic opportunities for members of that sex have previously been limited, members of the excluded sex must be allowed to try-out for the team offered unless the sport involved is a contact sport."  34 C.F.R. 106.41(b).
According to this provision, a school can offer separate teams for girls and boys "in a particular sport" as long as there is a team for members of each sex.  (The exception to this rule for contact sports does not apply, since baseball is correctly omitted from enumerated list of contact sports that appear later in this regulation.)  The regulation says nothing about "equivalent" sports or "similar" sports.  The idea that baseball and softball are interchangeable for Title IX purposes, while convenient for athletic directors, does not derive from this regulation, but from tradition rooted in stereotypes that sought to preserve the sport of baseball as an exclusive male preserve.  I agree with Miles's grandfather, quoted in the article, that baseball and softball are different sports.  They use different facilities, they have different rules, and different equipment.  Just as a school can't hold up its girls' volleyball team as a reason to exclude girls from the boys' golf team, it should not be able to rely on softball as a justification to exclude girls from baseball.    

I hope that Miles and her grandfather continue to fight the school district on this.  Perhaps they can do for Arizona what another baseball-playing girl, Logan Young, did for Indiana.  She too challenged her school's policy of excluding girls from baseball on the grounds that softball was an equivalent sport.  The lawsuit she filed eventually pressured the high school athletic association in that state to change the rules.