The National College Athletic Association (NCAA) governs sporting events at the collegiate level for over 1,000 schools and over 57,000 athletes. It would take a lot of courage to stand up to such a powerful organization.
But that’s exactly what runner Emily Kaht did.
The NCAA currently allows male athletes who identify as transgender to compete in women’s athletics after one year of taking testosterone suppressing drugs. As a female athlete herself, Emily knew that was unfair.
So, during Selina’s Run this fall, Emily ran the length of a marathon (that’s 26.2 miles) in front of the NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana carrying a flag that read “Save Women’s Sports.”
We sat down with Emily to ask her a few questions about running, women’s athletics, and her brave stand.
ADF: How have athletics impacted your life?
EK: Sports shaped my personality growing up and I've learned something from each of the sports I've done. I was a very shy, self-conscious girl, and I was a straight-A perfectionist who couldn't tolerate failure. Gymnastics helped me to become more outspoken because I was surrounded by outgoing girls who weren't afraid to take up space. It was also humbling; I learned how to deal with making mistakes, and I learned how to own it when I had epic fails. I also learned the value of hard work and how putting in effort consistently over time leads to results.
In pole vault, I experienced the satisfaction and fulfillment of athletic victories. Then, the general skills of being in sports as a kid set the stage for me to pursue a healthier lifestyle as an adult.
Today, long-distance running keeps me active and provides me with enormous psychological benefits. It gives me something to do with friends, and I've travelled places for races that I wouldn't have gone to otherwise. Most of all, it gives me structure and something to aim for. Even when it feels like nothing else in my life is going right, running is something productive I can do, and following a training plan gives a sense of progression that I need.
ADF: What gave you the idea to run a marathon around the NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis for Selina’s Run?
EK: I wanted to pick a major sporting body that allows male athletes to compete in women's sports. These sporting bodies set the example, so I think that calling out these organizations goes a long way towards attacking the root of the problem.
I had already been leaning toward the NCAA when the signatories of a private letter from Save Women’s Sports to the NCAA were leaked to a hostile anti-woman media outlet. Predictably, that outlet then doxed the signatories, implicitly inviting readers to harass them.
It seemed like a calculated move to bully the signatories into silence. I wanted to show the NCAA that those tactics won't work. I went to their headquarters in person, with nothing to hide.
ADF: What message did you hope to communicate to NCAA officials?
EK: I wanted to communicate that women are becoming aware of their unfair policies that ignore the biological differences between men and women, and we won't stand for them. We won't be bullied into silence, and we aren't going away. We're going to continue to shine a spotlight on their appalling treatment of female athletes and the rejection of scientific realities by the NCAA and many high-school leagues.
ADF: As an athlete, why do you think it’s a problem for biological males to compete in women’s athletic events?
EK: It is objectively, quantifiably unfair.
Men have well-documented physiological advantages over women in athletics. They're bigger, stronger, faster, and have more favorable bone structure, just to name a few examples. Hormonal and surgical interventions do not completely erase these advantages. And it's worth noting that activists are currently pushing for there to be no hormonal or surgical requirements whatsoever.
They're demanding that completely phenotypically normal males be allowed in women's sports. Not only is this unfair, it's also unsafe in combat and collision sports like boxing and rugby—as well as sports such as basketball where collisions are common even if unintended. Women are going to get hurt if this continues.
And even in non-contact sports, the fairness issue causes significant problems. It robs women of the opportunities to place on the podium, win a competition, or even participate in a competition. It also has the potential to deprive women of prize money, recognition, and sponsorships. Not only is this wrong on its own, but it will discourage girls from even participating in sports at all.
The bottom line is that when our laws and policies ignore biological realities, it is most often women and girls who suffer the consequences.
I can't imagine who I would be today if it wasn't for my participation in sports growing up. I want future girls to benefit from those kinds of experiences, too.
ADF: Why do you think it’s important to support policies that protect women’s sports for female athletes?
EK: First, it's important for safety reasons. Women shouldn't have to fear an increased risk of injuries due to being hurt by a male competitor in contact sports like rugby.
But across all sports, the reason is fairness. Competition is the main purpose of sports. If the fairness is undermined, the whole endeavor loses meaning.
Some people try to argue that it's only a problem at the elite level, or only a problem if transgender males start winning every competition they enter. But this is wrong. Of course, the highest stakes are the elite athletes who dedicate their lives and livelihoods to their sports.
But it matters at lower levels, too. Sports provide fulfillment, meaning, and health benefits to girls even if they don't go on to become elites. I was one such girl in high school. I was never going to be an Olympic champion, but I made some achievements—like setting school records, winning small meets, placing at some big meets, and making the varsity team. A single male athlete in the mix would have easily disrupted all those accomplishments. But no one talks about cases like that. Every time a male athlete competes on a female team, that person is taking up space that rightfully belongs to a girl or woman.
ADF: How has the stand that Selina Soule, Alanna Smith, and Chelsea Mitchel took for women’s sports inspired you?
EK: It inspired me to see people standing up to transgender ideology, but it also gave me a sense of shame. These girls are courageous and principled, but they shouldn't have to be doing this. Where are all the adults? The adults should never have let things get to this point.
Reading about the travesty in Connecticut, I felt a profound sense of shame that the adults in this country failed to prevent this.
Then it occurred to me that I am an adult. I felt that I had a duty as an adult to take real, concrete actions to stand up to this ideology.
If you look at the comments section on pretty much any article on this topic, people are overwhelmingly against letting male athletes compete in women’s sports. Yet how many of them take concrete actions beyond making anonymous comments? So many people hide behind keyboards while letting girls like Selina, Alanna, and Chelsea take all the risks. That picture is very wrong to me.
If everyone who privately thinks this is unfair were to speak up and take action, these anti-science, anti-woman policies could quickly disappear. I'd like to see more people stand up, but in the meantime, I am hugely grateful for the courage of these girls.
ADF: If you could offer advice to any aspiring female athletes in the current climate, what would it be?
EK: Be ready to take a stand. Don't wait until this personally affects you to voice your opposition.
Surveys show that most people are not on board with letting men compete in women's sports. But I think a lot of women are making a decision to stay silent. Recognizing that transgender athletes are relatively rare, they're hoping to scrape through their careers before a male comes along with an interest in their sport.
We can't keep doing this. If we're going to succeed, we female athletes must stand up for each other. Don't wait until there's a trans-identified male in your sport, in your conference, on your team, to speak out.
But keep your chins up. The women who came before us had to fight extremely hard to establish women's sports in the first place, and they succeeded. This is just the fight of our time. We will persist and we will make sure women's sports are still there for the women and girls who come after us.
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