When a pipe breaks in your house, you’re probably going to call a plumber.
When your car starts to make a noise you’ve never heard before, you’re probably going to call a mechanic.
When the cake in the oven isn’t rising like it should, you’re probably going to call mom.
Such is life. We rely on experts in their chosen field to remedy problems that we encounter because they tend to have a better grasp on things like plumbing and vehicle maintenance than we ever will.
Likewise, there is a good chance that Hall of Fame basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar knows more about the strengths, weaknesses, and limits of the human body than the Average Joe. As a six-time NBA Champion, two-time NBA Finals MVP, six-time NBA MVP, and the recipient of a slew of other accolades too numerous to recount, Abdul-Jabbar is perennially considered one of the best big men to ever play the game.
So when he chooses to weigh in regarding the distinct physiological differences between men and women as they pertain to competitive sports, it's worth listening.
That’s probably why the The Hollywood Reporter published his piece examining the popularity of amateur sports competition shows like American Ninja Warrior and The Titan Games through the lens of one very important question: “But are these shows good for women?”
This is where social media meltdowns tend to begin. But let us bravely venture forward.
“Clearly, women and men are not physically the same,” Abdul-Jabbar writes. “Men have superior upper-body strength while women are able to process oxygen faster.”
Now he’s done it.
Nonetheless, he continues: “One study determined that there is an average 10 percent to 12 percent performance gap between elite male and elite female athletes. Which is why head-to-head competition between men and women on obstacle courses that cater to men’s strengths can appear as if it’s being inclusive when it’s really just passive-aggressively shrugging and saying, ‘Hey, I gave them a chance.’”
Madison Kenyon and Mary Kate Marshall can attest. They’ve both raced against male athlete June Eastwood, who competed on the Montana State University men’s track team for three years before competing as a woman last year. And that 10-to-12 percent performance gap is pretty clear when you watch Eastwood dominate the women’s mile. When competing on the men’s team, Eastwood posted times in multiple events that were faster than the women’s national records.
Abdul-Jabbar continues, referencing Ultimate Beastmaster specifically: “There is some excitement to seeing a few women make it a little farther than some of the men but demoralizing to see them en masse do so poorly. The end result is they are not taken seriously. It’s as if the show was embracing Aristotle’s claim that a woman was merely ‘a deformed male.’”
Selina Soule, Alanna Smith, and Chelsea Mitchell can attest. They know how demoralizing it is to line up at the start of a race knowing a first-place finish is unlikely. All three of them raced against male athletes who identify as female during their high school careers due to a Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference policy. Chelsea lost 4 different state titles to male competitors alone.
But is that really so surprising when an analysis of the top high school boys' results from the 2016 track season shows that they would have swept the top 8 spots in the 100, 200, 400 and 800-meter races against the female Olympic finalists? The final medal count would have been 81-6.
In his piece, Abdul-Jabbar offers a solution: “Dwayne Johnson’s The Titan Games has the right idea by having the men and women run the same obstacles — but only against the same gender. The show captures the spirit of camaraderie in sports without sacrificing intensity. And it treats the men and women with equal respect.”
In case you’re keeping score, Abdul-Jabbar's piece was not published by Fox News, or The Washington Examiner, or any other outlet that could be considered conservative media. This was published in a Hollywood trade magazine. And yet, The Hollywood Reporter has not been cancelled for giving Abdul-Jabbar a platform. Nor has Abdul-Jabbar been cancelled for writing this piece.
Perhaps that is because the facts that Abdul-Jabbar is laying down are just that… facts. And more and more impressive voices in sports are daring to speak up for the truth: Scientifically, statistically, and philosophically, it is unfair to allow men to compete in women’s sports.
“True, watching Kacy Catanzaro be the first woman to complete a qualifying course and stuntwoman Jessie Graff the first to advance to [American Ninja Warrior] city finals was glorious. But how much fairer it would be to see the women run against one another...”
Amen, Kareem. Amen.
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