Last week, a U.S. Senate Committee held its first hearing on the Equality Act, a bill that would provide LGBTQ+ Americans with broad discrimination protections. Throughout the hearing Republican senators used their time to broadcast a supposed deep support for women’s sports by claiming that allowing high school transgender girls to compete in girls sports would create an opening for high school boys to pose as women to win athletic scholarships.
But later in the week, when inequities at the training facilities at the annual Men’s and Women’s Collegiate Basketball National Championship went viral, these valiant defenders of women’s sport were nowhere to be found.
Senators like Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and John Kennedy, who had all spent their workdays bloviating that the sanctity of women’s sport was threatened by high school trans women, were noticeably silent. (Well, unless you count Senator Tom Cotton tweeting about the University of Arkansas’ men’s team’s opening tournament game, which I do not.)
Seemingly, they were unperturbed by the fact that the facilities for men’s teams were vastly superior to the women’s facilities.
The NCAA couldn’t even deny the discrepancies after evidence quickly leaked out on social media, and NCAA vice president Lynn Holzman issued a statement saying that amenities for women’s teams weren’t available due to “limited space” in their bubbles.
But that claim was almost immediately refuted by Oregon Women’s Basketball forward Sedona Prince in another viral video that showed that the team’s limited weights were, in fact, placed on the edge of a mostly empty, cavernous conference room. After a prolonged public outcry (thanks again, viral tweets), the NCAA scrambled to provide proper facilities for the women’s tournament. Looks like that whole “limited space” defense was more a case of limited will.
Still, no word from the folks who claimed to want to “protect women’s sport” at all cost. Their silence should not come as a surprise, though, to anyone who has been following the onslaught of bills in statehouses across the U.S. aimed at restricting the rights of transgender teenagers—including preventing transgender teens from competing in extracurricular sports and barring doctors from providing trans-affirming health care to children under the age of 18.
Bills like these are the product of a clear coordinated effort from right-wing groups despite the fact that research done by The Trevor Project shows that access to affirming spaces for LGBTQ+ youth drastically lowers suicidal ideation and improves mental health. Add in the benefits of playing youth sports (like building self-esteem, teaching teamwork, and improving cognitive skills) and more and more LGBTQ+ kids get to thrive across the country. Oh, is now a good time to mention that research shows no inherent advantage for trans athletes?
Championing women’s sports means promoting equity in programs—and that means putting your money where your mouth is. A 2017 report from the NCAA showed that schools with college football programs spend twice as much on their men’s sports programs than women’s programs. That disparity even extends to the TV broadcast deal for the NCAA basketball championships, which, for the women’s tournament, features no direct payouts to universities, even if they win a national championship. Every team that wins a game in the men’s championship, on the other hand, gets a direct payout.
So, if these brave senators keep saying they need to protect women’s sports but also never plead for them to be adequately funded, what is the point of any of their posturing? Clearly, they are only trying to create a false threat on the integrity of sports to limit those who can play, while also ignoring the deep systemic issues that leave women’s sports lagging behind men’s.
The congressmen who spoke against the Equality Act used blatant transphobia to position themselves as protecters of women’s sports—and their silence in the face of well-documented inequity shows that their “support” for female athletics was never anything more than deeply entrenched misogyny.
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