I recently had two articles come out in Sapiens revolving around the theme of sexism in sports. The first article tackles some of the myths and misconceptions regarding sex differences in athletic performance. The second article takes a look at how sexism is still prevalent in the Olympic Games with a particular focus on natural testosterone level policing among some women athletes and briefly touches on trans-athlete inclusion.
Both of these articles were born out of my experience researching and teaching exercise physiology and the anthropology of sports. And both of these articles attracted some less than pleasant and incredibly misinformed responses.
Responses to the sex differences articles ranged from genuine curiosity and a place from wanting to learn to outright calling me a liar. Many struggle to accept that testosterone is not the end all be all of sports performance. Others cannot fathom that women may potentially have an athletic advantage in some sports. I think what frustrates me the most with these responses is that many of these folks seem to have not fully read the article nor attempt to read the extensive supporting information provided in text.
Furthermore, one of the critical points of this article was that women are woefully underrepresented in exercise physiology research both as research participants and researchers. I state clearly that everything we currently know about women’s athletic performance could be wrong as the current research just isn’t there to make many solid claims . Pushing the physiological work aside for a moment, it is also incredibly difficult to determine if the advantages men do have are actually due to better performance capability or just better opportunity, training, and exposure at a young age – a topic I did not have time to go into with this article.
As for the second article, current responses seem to come from those who are anti-trans inclusion in sports. They claim that it is unfair for trans athletes (particularly trans women) to compete with cis-gendered athletes. One individual responded to my article by linking to this twitter post claiming that Laurel Hubbard (trans-woman athletes competing in Olympic Weightlifting for New Zealand) knocked Nini Manumua out from Olympic competition. However, if this commenter had scrolled just a little further down that thread, she would have seen a strong argument that Manumua would have struggled to qualify regardless of Hubbard’s success. This is equivalent of saying “If the other team didn’t score so many points, we would have one!”
These and other anti-trans athlete arguments are false alarms. You can read why in my article linked above. Or here. Or listen to it here. The idea that trans-gender women are going to dominate sports is not based in reality, it is based in fear and bias.
I also highly recommend a couple of films for folks who may not want to read some of the articles but would like to hear from the trans-athlete perspective: Transformer and Changing the Game.
I thought this interview was going to revolve entirely around that study, but it didn’t! It was perhaps one of the most wonderfully wide-ranging interviews I have ever been a part of. I touch on a number of topics that are near and dear to my heart, and I am so grateful to Kat and Livia for giving me the time and space to discuss them.
South Bend was getting what we all thought would be the last snow of the winter (we are expected to get 3-5 inches of snow tomorrow…April 17th). Spring Break was just two days away, and I had planned a cabin retreat to re-focus my energy on research. An official pandemic would not be declared for another two weeks.
When I returned from that cabin retreat to a different world. The severity of Covid-19 was finally being recognized, Notre Dame made the call to shift to remote instruction, and there was a run on toilet paper.
Listening to my interview now, I feel nothing but gratitude. I am grateful to have opportunities to talk about the work I love. I am grateful to have a job that supports me in doing the work I love. I am grateful for a job that continues to support me working safely from home.
This past month has been filled with difficult transitions, but today this podcast made things a bit easier for me.
I was asked by the Notre Dame media folks to write up an OpEd on the recent World Anti-Doping Agency ruling against Russia. The Hill picked it up, and here it is, complete with a Rocky IV reference right off the bat. This likely won’t be a popular opinion, but I think it is a good conversation starter about the current sports culture both nationally and globally. It also hits on how much popular media shapes our views.
Having recently changed jobs, I also recently changed gyms. I have an incredibly complicated relationship with my previous gym and a deep emotional attachment. In order to work through my experience there, I wrote a piece for Sapiens.
This was an incredibly difficult bit of writing to work through, and brought me to tears countless times. I hope this is the start of a future project looking at culture and performance among powerlifters.
I hope you enjoy, or at least get something out of it.