OUR OPINION: Let Olympics, NCAA policies be the guide
For the Minnesota State High School League, one key to approving a policy regarding transgender athletes is to recognize that both sides have a point. For example, the Olympics now accommodates transgender athletes. So does the NCAA. Those arenas...
For the Minnesota State High School League, one key to approving a policy regarding transgender athletes is to recognize that both sides have a point.
For example, the Olympics now accommodates transgender athletes. So does the NCAA. Those arenas are not shy about ejecting athletes with unfair advantages, such as the kind delivered by steroids.
So, the fact that the organizations have seen fit to allow transgender athletes to compete suggests that sooner or later, the same thing probably will happen in Minnesota (and North Dakota) high school sports.
But make no mistake: The Olympics and the NCAA’s policies are restrictive - quite a bit more restrictive than the Minnesota State High School League’s draft guidelines.
That’s because the Olympics and the NCAA recognize fairness as a legitimate issue, especially when it comes to athletes who were born males competing as females.
Earlier this month, the Minnesota league tabled a decision on its draft guidelines until December. As the league considers that draft, officials should start by acknowledging the fairness issue, as the NCAA and International Olympic Committee have done.
That would go a long way toward easing skeptical parents and athletes’ concerns, many of which are shared by authorities at the highest levels of sports.
Suppose a transgender athlete who was born a male wants to compete in a woman’s sport in the Olympics. Before being allowed to compete, here is what that athlete would have to do:
- Undergo gender reassignment surgery;
- Undergo hormone treatments for at least two years; and,
- Be legally recognized as a member of the gender they’d like to compete in.
The NCAA rules are less restrictive. Notably, the NCAA does not require transgender athletes to undergo sex-change surgery.
But the organization does recognize the role of testosterone - the principal male sex hormone - in the development of muscle mass and other physical attributes.
So, once a person who was born a woman starts taking testosterone as part of transitioning to male, that person can compete on men’s teams in NCAA competitions but no longer on women’s.
And if a person who was born a male wants to compete on a women’s team, that person first must undergo at least a full year of testosterone suppression treatment.
Would that be enough to overcome any unfairness?
The NCAA answers that question in its publication, “NCAA inclusion of transgender student-athletes.”
“(A)ny strength and endurance advantages a transgender woman arguably may have as a result of her prior testosterone levels dissipate after about one year of estrogen or testosterone-suppression therapy,” the document declares.
“According to medical experts on this issue, the assumption that a transgender woman competing on a women’s team would have a competitive advantage … is not supported by evidence.”
In contrast, the draft Minnesota guidelines say only that “schools must review … that the individual has been diagnosed with gender dysphoria and is receiving appropriate clinical treatment.”
This challenging issue needs a statewide and much more consistent policy, not one that’s left up to Minnesota’s 700-plus high schools. If the State High School League wants to accommodate transgender students, then fairness to other athletes requires that it adopt something like the NCAA’s policy.
That policy does not address the important questions of either locker-room privacy or Minnesota’s private religious schools. But it’s a start, and it’s a demonstration that if the fairness concerns of transgender inclusion can be addressed, then those other concerns can be, too.