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NCAA Gets It Right With Transgender Athletes

Transgender pride flags in Washington, DC
Ted Eytan via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Transgender pride flags in Washington, DC

If you listen to this program enough, you’ll come to think of the NCAA, the governing body of college sports, as the corporate personification of Hamilton Burger.

He would be the hapless district attorney who managed to always lose in court to Perry Mason. Every week, Burger would manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory as Mason would unveil the real killer sitting either in the courtroom or in the witness’ chair.

Sorry if the reference is dated, but the relevance is still apt: The NCAA has usually proven adept at ruining a one-car parade.

We say usually, because the organization may actually have gotten something right.

The NCAA last week announced its full-throated support for transgender athletes, pledging in a statement that its championship events would be open “for all who earn the right to compete in them.”

That promise is significant, particularly in the wake of a series of bills and laws aimed at stripping away the rights and the dignity of transgender people, particularly those who identify as female.

In Arkansas, for instance, the state legislature passed a bill which bars gender-affirming care for transgender minors, including reversible puberty blockers and hormones.

The state’s Republican governor, Asa Hutchinson, vetoed the bill late last month, but the Arkansas House and Senate, both GOP-controlled, overrode the veto.

Meanwhile, in Tennessee, a House committee advanced a bill that would make it a misdemeanor to provide certain care to transgender minors, while in Alabama, the Senate moved to make such assistance a felony.

The Florida House, meanwhile, took dead aim at transgender athletes last week, seeking to bar their participation in girls’ sports in state high schools and women’s sports in state colleges.

In a particularly onerous piece of the legislation, hormonal testing and physical examinations, including genital inspection, would be required to resolve disputes.

The bill, which would also impact elementary and middle school children, passed overwhelmingly in the House and, if it gets through the Senate, would then go to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has indicated a willingness to sign it into law.

These battles are the latest skirmishes in a war that erupted last year when Idaho enacted a bar on transgender athletes. The Idaho law was struck down in federal court, but that ruling is being appealed.

On the surface, the move to keep transgender athletes out of competition appears to be a noxious solution searching for a problem.

Many state and local sports organizations have rules in place that protect the integrity of competition, while allowing transgender children the chance to participate in athletics in a meaningful way.

Below the surface, however, the drive to exclude transgender kids, many of whom struggle with feelings of inadequacy and insecurity, seems a part of some conservative-led culture war that will needlessly harm innocent bystanders.

That’s where the NCAA can help. Just as it did five years ago, when it moved championship events out of North Carolina after that state enacted a law restricting restroom access to transgender people, the NCAA needs to wield the same economic hammer now.

The organization has been hesitant to move that way, but it needs to do the right thing. After all, even Hamilton Burger got in a win every once in a while.

And that’s how I see it for this week.

Get in touch:

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @SportsAtLarge

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.