Column: Trans athletes not an issue but discrimination real

March 27, 2021 GMT
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Members of the Kansas Senate's Rules Committee confer during a debate on a bill that would ban transgender students from girls' and women's school sports at the Statehouse, Wednesday, March 17, 2021, in Topeka, Kan. (AP Photo/John Hanna)
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Members of the Kansas Senate's Rules Committee confer during a debate on a bill that would ban transgender students from girls' and women's school sports at the Statehouse, Wednesday, March 17, 2021, in Topeka, Kan. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

All around the country, states are rushing to approve laws to address a supposed problem that, in reality, doesn’t actually exist.

Has there even been a case where a transgender athlete actually stole a college scholarship or gained an unfair competitive advantage?

That sound you hear is crickets.

Seriously, if folks are so concerned about the state of women’s athletics, there are no shortage of inequities they could turn their attention to.

For starters, the NCAA basketball tournaments.

Instead, states like Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee prefer to focus on transgender athletes, demonizing them as some sort of spurious group plotting the downfall of women’s sports.

What a bunch of nonsense.

And dangerous nonsense, at that.

Transgender people already face a barrage of discrimination, incessant bullying and ridicule, and even occasional acts of violence for simply trying to be true to themselves.

A few years ago, it was those ridiculous, demeaning bathroom laws — another case of a solution in search of a problem that was merely floating around in the minds of bigots.

Now, they’ve taken up a new cause — stopping those glory-seeking transgender athletes.

Other than an oft-cited pair of transgender runners in Connecticut, who combined to win 15 championships and sparked a lawsuit, we couldn’t find even the hint of a threat to the integrity of women’s sports.

But, judging from what’s happening in at least 20 states around the country, transgender athletes are roughly akin to a giant meteor hurtling toward Earth, threatening to destroy our very way of life.

First, let’s check in on Arkansas, which you might remember from its attempts in the 1950s to keep black kids from attending white schools.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed a law Thursday banning trans women and girls from competing on school sports teams that match their gender identity.

“This will help promote and maintain fairness in women’s sporting events,” Hutchinson said in an eye-rolling statement.

Next, let’s move to Mississippi, another state that’s never been known as a citadel of social justice.

It took the Magnolia State more than a century to purge the racist Confederate battle emblem from its official flag, but it moved much more quickly to keep transgender athletes from taking part in female sports.

Gov. Tate Reeves said the state was merely reacting to — and this might sound familiar to those who lived through the civil rights movement — the overreach of the federal government.

Reeves said Mississippi had to act after President Biden signed an executive order on the day he took office banning discrimination based on gender identity in school sports and elsewhere.

Reeves claimed that Biden’s order “encourages transgenderism amongst our young people” — as though it’s nothing more than a lifestyle choice.

Of course, none of the debate has included any actual examples of transgender athletes gaining a dishonest edge in women’s sports.

“Legislators in Mississippi have not provided any examples of Mississippi transgender athletes gaming the system for a competitive advantage because none exist,” said Alphonso David, president of the LGBTQ civil rights organization Human Rights Campaign.

“This law is a solution in search of a problem.”

Last year, Idaho became the first state to pass one of these discriminatory statutes, which has since been challenged in court.

That hasn’t stopped a slew of other states from taking up a crusade that was clearly snatched out of thin air.

Which brings us to Tennessee, the latest state to join the shameful list when Gov. Bill Lee signed yet another of these hurtful, unnecessary bills into law Friday.

Lee had already signaled where he stood with his ludicrous claim that allowing transgender girls to play on middle and high school sports teams would “destroy women’s sports.”

OK, back to reality.

Did you know the NCAA has had policies in place for a full decade that allow for transgender participation in sports?

As far as we can tell, that hasn’t led to the demise of women’s athletics, which has plenty of far more serious issues on its plate. (Again, we’ll refer you to the glaring inequities between the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments.)

We applaud a group of more than 500 college athletes who fired off a letter to the NCAA asking that it not hold any championship events in states that pass laws discriminating against transgender girls and women — a tactic the governing body turned to before to address the Confederate flag and those bathroom laws.

“It is impossible for women athletes to feel safe and supported in environments where their personal identity and integrity is questioned,” the letter said. “The reality is that these many of these bills cannot possibly be enforced without inviting policing and bullying of all student athletes who do not meet stereotypes of gender, and could empower any person to force any student athlete to undergo invasive physical exams or hormone tests in order to ‘prove’ their gender.”

Knowing that money talks louder than a group of college athletes, we call on Fortune 500 companies and other major businesses to get on board by withdrawing their financial might from states that head down this hateful path.

Meanwhile, we grieve for the real victims.

You see, transgender athletes are not the problem.

It’s those who want to keep them off the playing fields.


Paul Newberry is a sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at) or at His work can be found at


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