Saturday, September 13, 2008

Basketball Star Age 12 and "Going on LeBron"

Two of my favorite blogs (see here and here) have already posted about Elizabeth Weil's profile in the New York Times of the 12-year-old basketball phenom, Jaime Nared. You may recall Nared from the controversy that erupted last spring after she was excluded from a private boys' league in Oregon because she always beat them (another of my favorite blogs covered that story, here). Today Nared is playing against high school-age girls in an elite private program. But that too is controversial. Those players want to play college ball in the near future. They, and their parents, resent having to share valuable court time with a 12-year-old, even one who's clearly poised to take the basketball world by a storm.

How do we accommodate athletes like Nared? As Weil points out, athletic talent is not the product of biology alone. "According to sports scientists, the most significant predictor of an athlete’s skill is the time spent in practice," the article states. Kinesiologist Jean Côté attributes athletic ability to "about 10,000 hours" of practice. Nared, the article points out, started playing basketball at a very young age -- so young that when she was tossed in with other 9-year-olds, who were just learning the game, it was already clear that she could never fairly compete against girls her age.

Because the unusual talent of Nared and her fellow phenom, 14-year-old, 6-2 Kailee Johnson, is not a simply the product of a statistically aberrant genetics, but training, we will see an increase in the number of phenomenal female athletes as early-age training becomes more popular and accessible to girls. As these athletes challenge the assumption of female inferiority that justifies segregation of athletics based on sex, we will be forced to grapple with a difficult question: What measure of equality will we use as the separate-but-equal framework, a measure of nondiscrimination that has been satisfactory in the wake of Title IX, becomes increasingly obsolete?