Home Sports Granderson: The NCAA’s dilemma about trans athletes shouldn’t be that hard of a call

Granderson: The NCAA’s dilemma about trans athletes shouldn’t be that hard of a call

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WASHINGTON, DC – APRIL 20: House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) joins Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-VA), track athlete Selina Soule (in pink suit), and other Republicans for an event to celebrate House passage of the Protecting Women and Girls in Sports Act in front of the United States Capitol on April 20, 2023 in Washington, DC. President Joe Biden has vowed to veto the legislation, which defines sex as

Kevin McCarthy, then speaker of the House, celebrated the chamber’s passage of anti-trans legislation last year. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The National Collegiate Athletic Association. is under pressure to write an impossible policy: a stance on transgender athletes that will make progressives and conservatives happy. The best he’s come so far is saying at the end of last month that his rules are “under review” after a smaller student-athlete association effectively banned trans women from competing in women’s sports.

It’s the latest development in a conversation that has been blown out of proportion by opportunistic conservative politicians, many of whom pushed for a ban on transgender athletes even though the politicians couldn’t point to any real-world problems as a result of trans participation in Sports. That didn’t stop Rep. Gregory W. Steube (R-Fla.) from writing his Law for the protection of women and girls in sportswhich passed the House last year.

I hope the decision makers at the NCAA are guided by better intentions and science than the legislators. And they will be if they first answer a fundamental question: Why do we play?

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Few have spent as much time trying to answer this question as psychiatrist and author Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute of Play. He has spent four decades interviewing thousands of people about his childhood, collecting data that, he says, comes to the same conclusion: “Playing is more than fun.” It is key to our development as young children and anchors our physical and mental well-being as adults. Sports are an activity that many people feel comfortable in and continue playing when they feel too old or self-conscious to use their imagination. Sports allow us to continue growing through play in childhood and adulthood.

To study the game, Brown had to define it. Here’s a general rule: “If your purpose is more important than the act of doing it, it’s probably not a game.”

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It sounds simple enough. It should apply to sports. The complication in college athletics is that economics – not just politics – have added layers of purpose that have outweighed the intrinsic value of playing a sport. This goes beyond the corporate world and its billions of dollars in television deals, merchandise, video games, legalized online gambling and, of course, compensation. The hope of obtaining scholarships is one of the main reasons why many parents pressure their children to specialize in a sport, despite research suggesting it could be harmful.

If the NCAA is trying to make everyone happy with a decision on trans athletes, it will undoubtedly fail. But if leaders are guided by the original purpose of the association (which was not to make money from student-athletes but to protect them from outside factors like politics), then it would be easier to create a policy with which universities and athletes can live.

Make no mistake, politics is the reason the NCAA is reviewing its policy on trans athletes, which allows participation in some sports under complicated medical criteria. It is estimated that 40 of the more than 500,000 athletes in the NCAA they are believed to be transgender, so it is not a crisis that is overflowing. That doesn’t mean questions about the latest scientific thinking and fairness for all athletes aren’t valid. Only, the panic over transgender athletes is part of a broader Republican agenda to attack the LGBTQ+ community for political purposes.


Book bans.

Transgender attention.

Iowa is still trying to find a way to ban same-sex marriage.

Remember when Republicans warned that the military would collapse if Democrats repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell”? Or that society would collapse with equal marriage? And now we are told that women’s sports will disappear if transgender athletes are not banned.

That doesn’t mean the policy the NCAA currently has in place is perfect. But it’s a reminder that politics isn’t causing problems. Trans athletes are not causing problems. Politicians just pretend to be looking for cheap political points.

This is another distraction from the game, which is supposed to be the foundation of the sport. When the game is at its best, it includes as many people as possible. Politics attempts to taint the game and, with the opposite impulse, seeks to divide: think about the ban on women in the Boston Marathon or the reason we celebrate Jackie Robinson Day. Time and time again we find that sports are better when we find ways for everyone to play. Ultimately, the approach that best serves universities and athletes may not be the one that politicians like. And that’s fine. Regardless, the NCAA’s decision should not be based on politics.


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This story originally appeared on Los Angeles Times.

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