Playing with the Boys: Why Separate Is Not Equal in Sports

Playing with the Boys: Why Separate Is Not Equal in Sports

Playing with the Boys: Why Separate Is Not Equal in Sports

Playing with the Boys: Why Separate Is Not Equal in Sports


Athletic contests help define what we mean in America by "success." By keeping women from "playing with the boys" on the false assumption that they are inherently inferior, society relegates them to second-class citizens. In this forcefully argued book, Eileen McDonagh and Laura Pappano show in vivid detail how women have been unfairly excluded from participating in sports on an equal footing with men. Using dozens of powerful examples--girls and women breaking through in football, ice hockey, wrestling, and baseball, to name just a few--the authors show that sex differences are not sufficient to warrant exclusion in most sports, that success entails more than brute strength, and that sex segregation in sports does not simply reflect sex differences, but actively constructs and reinforces stereotypes about sex differences. For instance, women's bodies give them a physiological advantage in endurance sports, yet many Olympic events have shorter races for women than men, thereby camouflaging rather than revealing women's strengths.


When radio shock jock Don Imus derided the Rutgers women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed ho’s” the day after they had played in the NCAA Division I championship game in April 2007, capping an improbable season and play-off run with a powerful showing of heart and skill, it wasn’t so shocking.

The comments sparked a firestorm. Sponsors deserted Imus. CBS and MSNBC yanked his show. Pundits intoned. Sports radio hosts went wild, some criticizing him but others defending him, claiming the women had probably heard worse from the stands. What was the big deal, anyhow?

Imus’s trash talk triggered expressions of public outrage about the racist nature of his name-calling. Somewhere in the background, with a little less fervor, we heard about gender.

It is easier to talk about race in sports. The deplorable treatment faced by black male athletes like football talent Kenny Washington and baseball star Jackie Robinson provides a clear wrong. We accept that we should judge athletes based on their skill, character, and performance—not the color of their skin.

On the other hand, female athletes, particularly successful women playing the “male” game of basketball, draw a muddier defense. They may shoot from the perimeter, box out, pass and play with a drive that makes watching a thrill, but there remains a . . .

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