Reason has a trollish essay up arguing that we should stop segregating sports by gender. Like a lot of libertarianism itself, it’s a superficially interesting argument that would lead to practically terrible outcomes with no actual benefits, to anyone.
The piece is hung entirely around the success of a single female contestant on the show American Ninja Warrior, which leads to the following conclusion:
If a woman can play basketball or baseball well enough for a men’s team, then it’s hard to think of even marginally credible arguments for not letting her. Likewise, it’s hard to think of a good reason for separating male and female golf, or track and field, and so on.
The only plausible explanation for keeping women out of men’s sports is that it also keeps men out of women’s sports. If you let women compete against men, then you have to let men compete against women, and gender physiology makes it likely that a lot of women’s teams could soon become JV men’s teams instead. Men who couldn’t quite make the cut in the NBA, for instance, could try out in the WNBA — and some of them would elbow women aside.
Here’s what would happen if you “desegregated”–which in all practicality would mean merging–gender differentiated sports: The number of women playing those sports would approach zero at every single level in which the sports were desegregated. About a dozen years ago I looked into this question for a piece which isn’t online today. Some highlights:
Take the 2000 Olympics in Sidney. Marion Jones went into the games as the most ballyhooed female sprinter in history, and she made good on her promise, winning gold in both the 100 and 200 meter events. But how do Jones’s times stack up against high school boys from, say, New Jersey?
In the 100 meters at last year’s state championship meet, Jones would have finished fourth (At the Olympics Jones won in 10.75 seconds; the boy who was state champ in New Jersey last year ran a 10.30. In the sprint world, a 0.45 second difference is like winning by three touchdowns.). She would have fared no better in the 200 meters–her Olympic time would have put her, again, fourth in the state.
What we didn’t know back then was that Marion Jones was juiced up and she still couldn’t hang with a bunch of male high school sprinters.
Tennis gives you pretty much the same result. Back in 1998, the Williams sisters decided to play a full set against their hitting partner, a guy named Karsten Braasch, who was ranked #203 in the world. It was 6-2 against Venus, 6-1 against Serena.
Which means that if you merged Olympic track and field, there wouldn’t be a single woman at the Games. If you merged the tennis tours, it’s unlikely that there would be a single woman playing professional tennis. Ditto for the NBA and WNBA. Ditto for soccer. Ditto for pretty much anything except, possibly, motorsports, billiards, American Ninja Warrior, and a few other obscure activities where technology sufficiently mediates physical gender differences. And this would happen at every level where the sports were merged: Semi-pro, college, varsity, and JV. It would mean the end of women in anything other than recreational sports.
Now, maybe some people might view this as a positive good, A=A and all that. But while women’s sports don’t especially interest me, I like that idea that female jocks get a pretty good chance to experience athletic life, except at the professional level. And I think we’d be worse off, in general, if we destroyed those opportunities in the pursuit of some crazy notions about gender equality and the meritocracy.