Blog Post 1
Travel leagues are divided by age, colleges are separated into divisions, and boys and girls don’t usually play with or against each other. All of these guidelines and then some are put in place for the sake of the game being fair, to level the playing field. But today those guideline are harder to live by, skill can trump age, colleges can change their divisions (Maryland and Rutgers joined the Big 10 this season), girls can play with boys, and gender itself can be ambiguous. This begs the question what is a level playing field and does such a thing even exist?
Brittney Griner plays basketball for Baylor University, she is 6 foot 8 inches. Her teammates range in height from 5 foot 11 to 6 foot 4. Alex Rodriguez played his last season for the Yankees this year at age 39. His teammate Jose Campos is 22. Despite the large differences between these particular athletes and their teammates they were still able to play together as do thousands of others, amateur and professional alike, everyday. This leads me to believe that there is no such thing as a level playing field, but there is a field of integrity.
A field of integrity can be likened to Johan Huizinga’s magic circle, a sacred space separate from the ordinary world governed by a certain set of rules. So long as a player stays true to the rules they do not violate the integrity of the game and that is as close as we can get to a “level” playing field.
Caster Semenya won an 800-meter gold medal in 2009 with a time of 1 minute and 56.72 seconds. Instead of being thrust directly into more competition she was thrust into an eleven month gender verification investigation. She is more masculine and has a deeper voice than her female competitors, but Semenya did not participate in doping, she was born that way in rural South Africa. She did nothing to violate the integrity of the game but yet was relentlessly probed and tested until being cleared in July 2010. Semenya’s masculine appearance can plausibly be attributed to androgen insensitivity, a genetic condition Spanish hurdler Maria Patino also had. This means Patino had higher testosterone levels but her “tissues never heard the hormonal messages to become male.” When tested at the 1985 Olympics (when gender verification was required for all female athletes) her results came up male and thus she was sent home and stripped of former titles. If Patino injected herself with more testosterone I would completely understand stripping her of her titles. However this was a physical advantage that not only was she born with but she was unaware of. All she did to achieve her success, as did Semenya, was put in time and effort.
Now as indicated in Mika LaVaque-Manty’s “Being a Woman and Other Disabilities” physical disabilities and the means that are taken to compensate for them are often a point of contention. For example before becoming infamous for his murder trial Oscar Pistorious was best known as a paralympic competing with able bodied athletes. Some critics such as Ben Rushgrove argued that Pistorious’s running blades, which don’t have feet, allowed him to train longer and harder than others. However Pistorious was still within the magic circle, because the blades to him are what legs are to the other runners. LaVaque-Manty says the same about wheelchairs for athletes competing in them for the New York City marathon. Pistorious and these others are simply working within their means to compete to the extent of their ability.
But is being a woman a disability? And does it break the integrity of the game to mix genders? Just ask Mo’Ne Davis, star pitcher of this year’s Little League World Series. Despite softball being a female counterpart to baseball, she not only chose baseball but excelled at it. Not only that but Davis comes from the Taney League in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania which is bursting with players and lacking in amenities. Here is someone who took what could have been seen as disadvantages and spun them into strengths. This is also a positive for Little League as the organization did not discriminate by gender but merely allowed the best to compete, thereby maintaining the integrity of the game.
A level playing field is where the most boring game of any sport that exists would be played out. A level playing field does not exist. Rather it is within Huizinga’s magic circle, where the rules are followed, and where individuals play to their strengths, that a field of integrity exists.