Playing with the boys

I recently read this article on CNN’s website: It’s about an 11-year-old girl who was told she could no longer play in her community’s youth football league because of her gender.
I’ll admit I have mixed feelings on the issue.
When I began writing the Emily O’Brien series, I knew she was going to be an athlete, a tomboy who was good enough to play with the boys. I chose baseball as her sport. The reason was fairly simple; it’s pretty much a no-contact sport. I didn’t choose basketball or football because I think it’s unrealistic to have a high school girl compete at that level with her male counterparts. And I wanted a team sport, not something more individualized like track or tennis. Baseball seemed the most likely sport.
So, given the character I created, I get the fact that some girls want to play with the boys, but when it comes to contact sports, I’m not sure it’s good enough to say that she should play as long as she can hack it. I’m not sure that’s fair to the boys on the team.
I know, I know, that’s not a common response. But as the mother of two boys who have played baseball, basketball and soccer, I’ve seen enough to question whether it is right for boys and girls to compete against each other in a contact sport.
Take soccer. In our former school district, there weren’t enough students to have a boys’ and girls’ soccer team so the girls played on the same team as the boys. Soccer can definitely be a contact sport. When two players are both jockeying for position, there is plenty of shoving and pushing that goes on. It’s not like football, but still it can get rough.
When I would watch my boys go head-to-head with a girl on the other team, I could see them back off. When it was another boy, they would hit hard and follow through. But when the potential for hurting a girl was there, they wouldn’t play as hard as they could. In a way, I was proud of that. I always told them I was more concerned with them being good human beings than being good athletes. I don’t think as a mom I would be proud of watching one of my sons knock a girl down to get to the soccer ball or tackle a girl on the football field.
As a society we send mixed messages to boys. We tell them not to hit girls but we cry foul when a girl wants to play on a boys football team but isn’t allowed. Movies and television programs show men and women fighting each other as equals but we expect our boys to know that isn’t real life. I have a hard time watching the X-Men movie when Wolverine fights Lady Deathstryke, mostly because Wolverine is a good guy and he’s beating the crap out of a woman. Yes, she’s a mutant who can hold her own and is trying to kill him, but she’s a WOMAN. I know it’s a movie but I wonder what goes through the mind of a young boy when he sees this. Does he really understand why we teach boys that men shouldn’t hit women? I hope so, but it’s kind of scary to see media showing just the opposite.
So when I read stories like this, part of me wants to say “You go, girl!” But the larger part of me believes that saying no really isn’t just about protecting this young lady. It’s about sending a consistent message to the boys on the team. If more girls wanted to play football and a girls’ football league was formed, I would see no problem with it; it’s not the contact that I oppose. As old fashioned as it sounds, I still think there are areas where men and women can’t really compete on the same turf, for both of their sakes.
So what do you think? Am I way off base?


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