Is there a level playing field?

Hayley Nakos

Section 8

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.

Fenway Park September 2013

Fenway Park September 2013


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.

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3 thoughts on “Is there a level playing field?

  1. I think something to consider is the fact that men and women typically do not compete in leagues together. While this is a controversial debate, I think the answer of separating by gender does make sense in most cases. My discussion section mentioned this idea. We discussed how in the NBA and WNBA for example, the women and men compete separately. However, If there was a women who could compete and match the talent of the men, then by all means she should be playing in the NBA. But based solely on the men’s bodies, strength, height, and physicality, in most cases the talent levels differ enough to create two separate leagues.

    In the case of gender questioning, I believe that the competition should be based on talent. Regardless of what one identifies as, they should compete in whichever league better matches their abilities. If women can challenge the mens’ talents, then they should compete against them. Sports become entertaining when the competition is tight. If both women and men have the capability to create a competitive game, then their gender should not affect their playing.

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  2. A lot of time has been spent in discussion talking about this, but you really brought up some aspects that went right over my mind. The first, a field of integrity. My main question is how are you defining integrity? Does the morality and honesty come from the players, officials, spectators, etc? There are many different components to what would really make something fair and just (one component being honesty). Another idea that I enjoyed you incorporating is the idea of the magic circle and along with that I thought of the idea of open competition. With the magic circle and Caster being tested, it is not longer “fun” nor “non competitive” as she is being compared in a numerous amount of ways to the other athletes, many outside of her own identified gender. As you said, Caster identifies as a women and she qualifies in her stats to participate so why was she given such a hard time, right?
    Overall, you wrote a very well written post that really analyzed the texts. Nice Work.

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  3. Hayley,

    I found this blog very interesting. You first propose a concept (a field of integrity) that, while maybe some people have thought of before, is new and different. The field of integrity is a very interesting concept, but there is one problem in my mine with that.

    Within the rules for women’s sports, it is clear that one must be a woman in order to participate. While most people who self-identify themselves as a woman are women, this does not take into account people like Semenya. She identifies as a woman, so is that enough based on integrity to allow her to compete as one? With her testosterone levels being at a higher level than even most of the strongest female Olympic sprinters, is it fair that she can compete as a woman based solely on her integrity? I’m not disagreeing or agreeing with you either way, I’m only trying to bring up both sides of the argument.

    Nonetheless, this is a fantastically written blog post and it caused me to think about things in a new way. Very well done.

    -Korey Burdman

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