My Life In Sports — Competition and Mastery, Not "Ladylikeness"

Athletic competition is important for women. Yeah, even shotput, which Douglas Wilson has decreed is a forbidden pursuit for a woman.

(You needn’t genuflect . . . )

But while I’ve never heaved a heavy iron ball in competition, much less picked one up in my non-competitive life, I was an athlete for all of my life, until the wreck in 2005 that left me partially disabled. I also grew up in the era of Title IX, which, lo and behold, did not introduce the end of civilization nor the end of a generation of girls’ maturity into reproductively capable women.

(There was much talk in the 1960s and early 1970s about our delicate uteruses and the potential for grave damage if, for example, girls’ basketball moved from a zone to a one-on-one defense. For those of us just blossoming as women, this was potentially frightening, but the opportunity to wear a uniform and play ball was too exciting, even if we were potentially looking at dislodged female organs leading to infertility. I also remember a Boys’ Little League official in the early 70s insisting that girls should have to wear the boys’ protective cup, not just to “protect” us — how, he failed to mention — but to “treat ‘em like guys if that’s what they want.” I was grateful when my dad called him an ass and told him to shut up, as I was literally faint with embarrassment at the mention of a protective cup).

Little League was a huge part of my and my family’s life, evidenced by the City of Tucson naming a Little League field after my father following his death in 2009. My brother, Eddie, started playing at age 7. There were no programs for me, but my dad taught us both how to throw, how to catch, how to hit, bunt, run the bases and field a grounder. I got my first glove when I was 7, and I have never, even now at age 50, been without one — oiled, banded, broken in and ready. Dad insisted, contrary to Doug Wilson, that there was no “throwing like a girl” or “throwing like a guy,” but simply a proper way to throw a baseball, and it was a skill I mastered early and well. I learned to throw a curve before my brother did, and as he rose through the ranks of Little League, I chafed on the sidelines, knowing that I was as good or better a player than the boys on the field, but unable to participate because I was a girl.

In the 1960s and early 70s, Little League baseball was closed to girls, in the minor League, ages 7-10, the majors, 11-13, and the seniors, 13-15. But there was nothing on the books that prevented me from coaching or umpiring, so my dad made sure I mastered the intricacies of the baseball scorepad — if you’ve never played, it’s not what you think — and the strike zone, infield fly rule, and other baseball rules and plays. I was about 12 when I umpired my first minor-league game, and I helped my dad, who managed every team my brother was on, as his assistant until Little League allowed girls to play when I was, I think, 13. I played two years — third base — and could easily throw the 60-foot bases, although at the plate I often went 0-for-September.

We had a roughed-out basketball court in the rocky clay soil of our Tucson home, and I spent untold hours learning set shots, jump shots, lay-ups, hook shots and free throws. I dribbled the ball better than my brother and had a wicked — and not in the Wilsonian sense — hook. My kinda-sorta brother Darrell played on the high school team, and he was nice enough, when Ed and I were in junior high, to coach us. Dad taught me to throw a football in a spiral, and although my hands are still too small for a regular football, I still can. Growing up in Tucson then meant that most of my athletic successes were in pickup games or at home, because there were no opportunities for me to play on a real team until I was 13. It seemed unfair to me then, and it was.

I was in high school when Title IX, which guaranteed equal funding and access for, among other things, girls’ athletic programs, was implemented. In junior high and high school, tennis legend Billie Jean King was my hero — she not only beat the insufferable Bobby Riggs on national TV, but also brought tennis and women’s sports in general into the spotlight. Yes, I’m aware that she’s a lesbian; I couldn’t care less, but I realize some of you do. Let me assure you that my love for Billie Jean King was and remains entirely platonic, and I’m still grateful for all she’s done for female athletes. I played tennis, albeit it not very well, and my dream of playing basketball finally came in my senior year, 1977-78, when Cholla High School finally formed a girls’ team.

Unfortunately, I dropped a huge roll of butcher paper on my foot while helping to decorate a Homecoming float, breaking two toes and putting an end to my basketball career. I was heartbroken.

I shifted to bicycling while in college, often riding 75 miles on a Saturday morning on my 19-inch lightweight Fuji, and I once rode nonstop from Tucson to Phoenix — 135 miles — and then celebrated by partying all night. And while my athletic career stalled and then sputtered out after career, marriage, and children (lo and behold, my uterus was entirely functional after all), it was briefly revived in 2001, when I played softball on a church team. Unfortunately, I was the catcher, and the one game I played without my mask was the game in which I took a hard foul tip to the eye and nose, resulting not only in a run scored but in a run on my part to the ER, where a CT scan revealed that, indeed, my clock had been thusly and thoroughly cleaned. There would be no more softball for me.

Now, my athletic endeavors are seriously limited, if existent at all. But even if I’m unable to participate these days, I nonetheless take exception to Wilson’s and anyone else’s assertions that women can only play sports in a “ladylike” way. (I say “take exception” because it’s more ladylike than what I want to say, which involves a word I don’t normally use in Prevailing Winds). Sports IS neutral. There is a proper way to throw a softball, shoot a free throw, kick a soccer ball, spike a volleyball, and put a shot. That men have had infinitely more opportunities to master those skills does not make the skills themselves “masculine,” and only those men who are insecure in their own manliness would dare suggest that women’s mastery of athletics and robust participation therein is somehow dangerous. It’s long past time for guys like Wilson to let go of the ball and share the field with women, and his continued insistence on keeping them in their place — which would be wherever he isn’t, save the kitchen and the bedroom — is deplorable.

It also suggests a somewhat desperate grasp on masculinity that in itself raises questions, not the least of which is why Wilson and his pals are so terrified that the gals will wrest it from their grip. I would hope that’s not the source of his “ggkkk” feelings of disgust for physically strong women, because he’s really not at all relevant to any of us, and threats to his macho-ness are solely in his own frightened mind, not ours.

2 Responses to “My Life In Sports — Competition and Mastery, Not "Ladylikeness"”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Sorry to hear about your accidents that benched you over the years. We were on one of the teams suiting up the day the first woman’s high school ice hockey team played at the Amherst Massachusetts rink. I guess they thought they booked a boys’ game and got us by mistake. While the officials argued, our coach had us go over the wall and take the ice. She told us whatever they say; don’t come off until our time is up. Eventually, they let the game begin. We beat the other team, yet I heard comments to the effect that both women’s teams won that day.

    Funny thing is, with hockey, basketball, softball, and volleyball from junior high school to college, the only injury I had was a broken nose. And that happened in the laundry mat, not playing sports. My uterus produced two healthy children. Oh, and I threw shot put in a track meet in seventh grade.

    I do not think women and men are equal nor should sports be combined meaning putting women and men on the same team. This is because we are physically different. I don’t think there can be an argument about that. I was in high school when title 9 started and on the first day of tryouts, a group of boys dressed in skirts came running across the field demanding their rights to join the softball team. My coach got mad and sent them packing. We didn’t laugh, they didn’t get the point. (I think it’s funny now).

    I’m so glad that women have equal opportunities to play. I do see equality in Christianity more than in sports. Physical upper body strength isn’t needed to read the Bible, pray, preach or live a righteous life. Is a soul male or female, or just the shell? I see Jesus eliminating the barriers that separated us as people. I see the veil in the temple ripping from top to bottom and the system that kept the Gentiles in the outer court while inviting Jewish families inside. The sign on the next door said, “Women go no further.” The temple guards protected the next door from men who were not priests. Lastly, the curtain kept out all who but one high priest in for one day of the year – until Jesus blew it all away with his sacrifice. Why do we put the dividers back up?

    Well, thank you for listening. I hope you feel better soon. We are waiting to see what Irene will do.

  2. Your comment made my day! Thanks so much, and I hope to hear from you again.

    Keely

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