Save Girls Sports – from July 2021

On 21 July, Judge Joseph Goodwin, of the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, granted a preliminary injunction against West Virginia’s Save Girls Sports Act, ruling that a middle school aged biological male who identifies as female, Becky Pepper-Jackson, must be allowed to try out for the girls cross country and track teams at her school. He reasoned that the Fourteenth Amendment was intended to provide equal protection under the law for all individuals. This originally applied to equality between races, but Judge Goodwin believes that it should also apply to transgender individuals. He writes,

A fear of the unknown and discomfort with the unfamiliar have motivated many of the most malignant harms committed by our country’s governments on their own citizens. Out of fear of those less like them, the powerful have made laws that restricted who could attend what schools, who could work certain jobs, who could marry whom, and even how people can practice their religions. Recognizing that classifying human beings in ways that officially sanction harm is antithetical to democracy, the states ratified the Fourteenth Amendment. It ensures that no state may “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Accordingly, the courts are most juberous of any law—state or federal—that treats groups of people differently.[1]

A standard argument against allowing biological males to compete in female sports is that biological males have an unfair advantage. Goodwin dismisses this argument out of hand, saying “testosterone is the reason for any advantage,” but that Pepper-Jackson has been on puberty delaying drugs for over a year. Given that this student “has not undergone and will not undergo endogenous puberty,” there is no risk that allowing her to compete alongside other girls would result in an unfair physical advantage.[2]

In reality,  Judge Goodwin’s reasoning falls far short. Males enjoy a 10-13% performance advantage over females in sports such as rowing, swimming, and running, a 16-22% advantage in sports involving jumping and kicking, a 29-34% advantage in weightlifting and golf long driving, and more than a 50% advantage in baseball pitching.[3] These advantages arise from important physical differences, many of which are not related to testosterone. Males have greater lean body mass, greater muscle mass, greater muscle strength, longer bones, stiffer tendons, better oxygen utilization, higher respiratory capacity, more powerful cardiac function, and more oxygen carrying capacity in the blood. These advantages are present from recreational to elite athletes and span ethnicities.

Differences between males and females in athletic performance are present before the testosterone surge at puberty. A study of 85,000 children in Australia noted that 9-year-old males were 10% faster over short sprints, 17% faster over one mile, could jump 10% further from a standing position, could complete 33% more pushups in 30 seconds, and had a 14% stronger grip.[4] A Greek study of 6-year-olds showed similar outcomes. Contrary to popular myth, male athletic advantages over females do not begin at puberty.

Advocates for allowing transgender individuals compete in sports of their chosen gender suggest that testosterone suppression will adequately level the playing field. The current International Olympic Committee standard requires that transgender women must have a testosterone level below 10 nmol/L for 12 months prior to and during competition. However, a review of 12 studies after testosterone blockage to less than 10 nmol/L showed an average decrease of only 5% in muscle size and function.[5] Testosterone reduction only minimally affects lean body mass, muscle size and bone density. In summary, transgender female athletes retain significant competitive advantages over biological females despite years of testosterone blocking treatments.

Competitive advantage is only part of the issue; safety and injury risk matter. Biological females have a greater risk than biological males for knee injuries due to their broader pelvic bones. Testosterone depletion does not change male skeletal anatomy. Further, the greater size and weight of males compared to females puts the latter at greater risk for injury in contact sports.

Judge Goodwin’s allegation that “testosterone is the reason for any advantage” is false. Transgender males retain significant competitive advantages over biological females regardless of their testosterone status. Although less germane to track sports, biological females may face greater injury risks in contact sports when competing against transgender females. Becky Pepper-Jackson is likely to have significant athletic performance advantages over girls on the track team. The Fourteenth Amendment promotes equal protection under the law. Contrary to Judge Goodwin’s assertion, “fear of the unknown and discomfort with the unfamiliar” have nothing to do with West Virginia’s Save Girls’ Sports Act. The Fourteenth Amendment’s “Equal protection under the law” applies to biological girls too.

[1] Elura Nanos, Federal Judge Rules Against West Virginia’s ‘Save Women’s Sports Bill’: Transgender Girl Must Be Allowed on Girls’ Team, https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/federal-judge-rules-against-west-virginia-s-save-women-s-sports-bill-transgender-girl-must-be-allowed-on-girls-team/ar-AAMri1j

[2] Elura Nanos, Federal Judge Rules Against West Virginia’s ‘Save Women’s Sports Bill’: Transgender Girl Must Be Allowed on Girls’ Team, https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/federal-judge-rules-against-west-virginia-s-save-women-s-sports-bill-transgender-girl-must-be-allowed-on-girls-team/ar-AAMri1j

[3] Emma N. Hilton, Tommy R. Lundberg, Transgender Women in the Female Category of Sport: Perspectives on Testosterone Suppression and Performance Advantage, Sports Medicine (2021), 51:199-214

[4][4] Emma N. Hilton, Tommy R. Lundberg, Transgender Women in the Female Category of Sport: Perspectives on Testosterone Suppression and Performance Advantage, Sports Medicine (2021), 51:199-214

[5] Emma N. Hilton, Tommy R. Lundberg, Transgender Women in the Female Category of Sport: Perspectives on Testosterone Suppression and Performance Advantage, Sports Medicine (2021), 51:199-214

Author: MD Harris Family Institute

MD, MPH, MBA, MDiv, PhD, ThM, DECBA Colonel, US Army (ret)

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