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Sports used to be a place to debate anything. Throwback uniforms, moneyball, the ever-present designated hitter conversation that has buoyed many a boring barbecue. To watch sports is to engage in the side sport of quibbling with everything, armed with the most minute statistics.
But there is one thing one must not debate. Enter this week’s back-and-forth between sports journalists: In one corner, ESPN sideline reporter and anchor Sam Ponder. And in the other, with an assist (to mix my sports metaphors) from Ponder’s co-worker Sarah Spain, USA Today columnist Nancy Armour.
At issue is Ponder’s tweet about trans athletes competing in women’s sports, which quotes a tweet from former All-American collegiate swimmer, Riley Gaines. Since finishing her 2022 season in a tie with trans swimmer Lia Thomas, who competed as a man as recently as 2020, Gaines has become an outspoken activist on this issue.
Nancy Armour Chose To Attack, Rather Than Discuss
Pretty tame stuff from Ponder, who merely notes that there are women athletes scared to speak out on this subject because they might be called hateful for a national news audience.
Why might those women be worried about debating this subject? Well, Armour comes in hot with a refusal to engage in anything other than character assassination:
ESPN’s Sam Ponder uses ‘fairness’ to justify bigotry toward trans women
“Don’t be fooled by the people who screech about “fairness” to cloak their bigotry toward transgender girls and women, the transgender girls and women who have the audacity to want to play sports, in particular.
“This is, and always was, about hate, fear and ignorance.”
Refuting Ponder’s assertion that women athletes and their parents might be worried about being cast as bigots with a full column calling her a bigot in a national publication is a rather self-owning choice. Ponder’s ESPN co-worker Spain piled on by liking Armour’s tweet about the column. This is not an attempt by Armour or Spain to engage with ideas, but to exact a professional price from Ponder over her position. Such solidarity from fellow women in a field long-dominated by men.
Facts Surrounding Trans Athletes Have Been Largely Ignored
By contrast, there is no professional cost for this lazy screed about Ponder’s “sham” concern for women. Despite Armour’s “brave” pose, there are almost exclusively huzzahs to be had from an industry that is far, far removed from public opinion on this issue. There was also apparently very little fact-checking, as Armour predictably repeats the affirm-or-suicide ultimatum of gender ideology, which is based on deeply flawed studies.
Polling from 2022 shows a solid majority of Americans (53-63, depending on the poll) oppose allowing transgender athletes compete in women’s sports, with Independents exactly reflecting the general population in an NPR/Ipsos poll. Americans distinguish between general acceptance of trans identity, to which they are more favorable, and the issue of sports competition, because they have more common sense and nuance than the average sports journalist.
That puts Armour on the 20-ish percent side of the question, which in and of itself doesn’t mean she’s wrong. But it does mean her mean-spirited hubris is preventing her from considering women who must compete against post-pubertal biological males for accolades and scholarships, as California’s female track and field athletes were asked to do this week, might have a different take. LINK
In short, this is one of the more obvious debates worth having in sports.
But when it comes to trans issues, debate is not the aim, as author Abigail Shrier has repeatedly found in the promotion of her 2020 book, “Irreversible Damage, “ which chronicled the emerging explosion of teenage girls identifying as trans. Trans activists and allies have repeatedly attempted to have the book banned from major bookstores and online sellers— actually banned, not “moved to another part of the library” banned or “taken out of the curriculum” banned. This week, on a trip to Israel, the book was pulled from two major chains and activists tried to convince the organization hosting her speech to cancel it. They then used the low sales numbers they created to argue there really is no other side to this issue.
USA Today Reeks Of Hypocrisy
But there is, and Chelsea Mitchell was one of the first to give voice to it, in a 2021 column in none other publication than USA Today, about the lawsuit she filed against the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference after losing her fastest-female title to two biological males competing against her during her high school career.
At the time of the column, Mitchell was brave to write it and USA Today, brave to run it. USA Today has since edited its own piece to conform to the ever-changing verbiage demands of the trans movement, removing any references to “males,” and apologizing for the “hurtful” language without which Mitchell can’t as effectively make her case. Which is, of course, the idea.
The lack of debate leads to dumber and dumber takes on the subject, such as New York Times writer Elizabeth Spiers insisting she’d gladly box a trans woman in her weight class if she were a boxer. To pretend an obviously debatable point is not debatable, one must feminist so hard that she ends up volunteering to literally be beaten by a biological male competitor.
Madeleine Albright famously said there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women. Amazing how quickly the rule evaporates as soon as a woman like Ponder doesn’t say the right things.