What Is Gender Equity In Sports?

We recently discussed the wave of laws at the state level that have been put forward — and in Idaho’s case, passed — in order to prevent trans players from playing on teams that share their gender (keep in mind that biological sex is whether or not a person is born male or female, while gender is a social construct based on how people feel). The new legislation has advocates arguing for greater inclusion to foster a sense of safety and support for trans players — but others have taken the fight one step further, asking why gender equity hasn’t become the norm.

“Equality” means we give everyone the same chances. “Equity” means we give people what they need. Here’s an example: a child has a minor cut, and the parent prescribes a band-aid. Another child shatters his leg, and the parent prescribes a band-aid. This is equality — but it isn’t equity, because the second child obviously needs a cast to heal properly. Society is only recently beginning to apply this concept to race and gender. We’re more apt to understand that different groups of people might need equity, not equality, because of their experiences in life or the way society as a whole treats them.

A Maitland Family Law Lawyer commented, “It’s not unusual for legal cases to be founded upon the principle that gender roles have no place in sports, at home, or in the workplace. And most people are coming to realize that’s the truth. It’s only a matter of time before women and trans men are allowed to play on men’s teams — because the bottom line is this: they are every bit as capable.”

Remember Nat’l Organization for Women v Little League Baseball, Inc.? The court decision upheld the right of girls aged 8 to 12 to play in Little League sports. The defendants argued that Little League only funneled its resources into players who would likely continue to play into adulthood — and the girls obviously wouldn’t, because there is no place for them in men’s baseball. The court describes these arguments as “stereotyped conceptions” relating to the “needs, capabilities and aspirations for the female, child or woman.”

As a result, some Little League teams disbanded.

In 2021, advocates for trans and women’s rights are arguing that embedded stereotypes don’t diminish after childhood, and that trans women and women should have every opportunity afforded to men.

One effort to increase understanding and equity in sports was put forth in New Jersey — The Civil Rights Data Collection. This data would be provided to the public for free and provide relevant demographic information about the number of boys and girls playing in a given sport at the high school level. This information would be used to compel the schools into compliance with existing equality laws in order to increase equity for the foreseeable future. 

Because of these programs, additional teams have been created to allow women to play — but some are arguing that they don’t go far enough. Why are there “men’s” and “women’s” teams at all?