[this is cross-posted. Original post is at Title IX Blog.]
I virtually attended last week's NCAA annual Inclusion Forum which was celebrating Title IX but also included issues of BIPOC inclusion and athlete mental health (among others).
There was a panel on Thursday afternoon headlined by former Harvard swimmer Schuyler Bailar about trans athletes.
When the conference was announced, I was curious about how the organization would approach--or even if they would--trans athletes given the recent seemingly abrupt change in their policy (January 2022--curiously amidst the growing visibility of Penn swimmer Lia Thomas). They moved from a not ideal but not totally horrible policy in which hormone levels (specifically testosterone) governed participation, to a we-are-cowards-kowtowing-to-the-misnamed-fear-mongering-save-women's-sports folks policy in which trans athletes are treated as cheaters constantly having to submit to surveillance. Additionally, the NCAA policy is basically a non-policy because they have decided to follow the "Olympic model" in which each college sport will follow the rules of its governing body.
They have washed their hands of responsibility to throw the anti-trans activists off their backs, and they have sacrificed trans athletes in the process as well as compromising their own philosophy about the goal of college sports and inclusion and participation. To be fair, the organization has never truly adhered to that philosophy. [I will save a more thorough interrogation of the policy for another post.]
The description of the panel in the agenda (available in the first link above) was as follows:
Session 1 | Beyond the Headlines: Understanding the Trans & Non Binary Student-Athlete Experience Media headlines and state laws have contributed to increased discussion about transgender and nonbinary athletes. Rarely are the perspectives of these athletes shared or included in these discussions. This session provides an opportunity to hear directly from a former trans student-athlete about their experience in college sports and to discuss with administrators how campuses can support all student-athletes around this subject.
Schuyler told his story, the panel (there were two others who work in college athletics) answered some pre-set questions posed by the moderator, and we in the audience were allowed to submit questions in the Q&A window. Several of us asked questions about policy--the NCAA's and other organizations' policies. NONE of them were picked.
In the chat, as things were winding down and it was clear these questions would go unasked, I commented on this fact. Schuyler saw my comment, in which I mentioned that these policies are a form of violence (because he had talked about violent threats against him on social media and anti-trans violence in general). He responded that the panel was not about policy but about showing the humanity of trans people by sharing the story of a trans person.
Humanity is great; I wish the NCAA had more of it in fact. But framing this panel as one about humanity and then refusing to discuss policies that are the opposite of humane; that in fact are othering, is disingenuous. I am not directly blaming Schuyler Bailar. I am sure the directive was issued from on high. In fact, when I went to the panel description as it was presented on the meeting platform (different from the posted agenda), I found this addition: Please note, this session is not intended to discuss or go into detail around the NCAA's transgender student-athlete participation policy.
The humanity discourse was a cover. It allowed the NCAA to show a success story in Schuyler Bailar. It threw attention off of their own inhumane governance. It is a cover for the violence they are doing. It focused on one person, which has been a huge problem in ALL the discussions of trans athletes. They are focusing on individuals and not the larger philosophy(ies) and ethics of sport and human dignity. This approach has made lightning rods out of people such as Lia Thomas. It literally endangers lives by perpetuating the idea that trans people are not fully human; that they should be subjected to constant testing and monitoring and scrutiny. It was offensive that they approached the issue this way at a conference about inclusion.