11.14.2012

sam gordon, girls playing football, and the last bit of segregation we still tolerate


In case you haven't seen this yet, it's 9-year-old football sensation Sam Gordon, the only girl on her Utah football team. Dave Zirin raises the question: why do we assume gender segregation in sports is necessary? The historical perspective, plus the more recent rethinking of the binary nature of gender, opens new vistas.
Few 9-year-old girls are described as a “young—very young—Walter Payton.” But that’s what people are calling Sam Gordon of South Jordan, Utah. Gordon has become an Internet sensation after the spread of viral videos showing her shredding Pee Wee football defenses with a series of dynamic touchdown runs.

The footage of Gordon has been passed around breathlessly but almost as a YouTube curio, like she’s the 2012 version of the “dramatic chipmunk” or “sneezing panda”.

Her rather overwhelming awesomeness, however, raises far more interesting questions: Why do we still segregate so much of youth sports based on gender? Does the practice of doing so actually stunt female athletic potential? Would ending gender segregation foster a higher level of athletic excellence? The early women’s rights activists certainly thought so. As Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote in a women’s issues magazine, The Lily, “We cannot say what the woman might be physically, if the girl were allowed all the freedom of the boy, in romping, swimming, climbing, playing ball.”
Zirin muses: "The future of sports could be a beautiful, life-affirming safe-space or it could be an anchor on human progress." Read more here.

2 comments:

M@ said...

I haven't seen the footage of Sam Gordon (and still can't because YouTube is blocked in my office). But I would really love for the gender segregation to end in sports, wherever possible.

It wasn't that long ago -- i.e. 1978 -- that black men were still considered mentally inadequate for playing quarterback in the NFL. Warren Moon couldn't get work as a QB in the NFL, came up to Canada and won five straight Grey Cups with Edmonton (an unequalled feat in the league), then went back to the USA and was a huge star there, becoming the highest-paid player in the NFL in 1989.

Before Warren Moon proved them wrong, a lot of people thought that the intellectual inferiority of black people was an objective reality. But often our "objective reality" is simply a dressed-up post-hoc rationalization of the arbitrary limits our society imposes on people.

I would really love to see Zirin and Stanton's ideas on gender segregation explored--and confirmed.

laura k said...

Before Warren Moon proved them wrong, a lot of people thought that the intellectual inferiority of black people was an objective reality. But often our "objective reality" is simply a dressed-up post-hoc rationalization of the arbitrary limits our society imposes on people.

Yes. Bravo.

Often you hear the rationale, "girls can't play football at this level". But then, most men can't either. One set of standards, you qualify or you don't.

Some sports, the gender segregation is especially ludicrous - track, for example, or swimming.