By Ryan Tibbens (with additional, better text by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.)
This week, a respected international organization, the Court of Arbitration for Sport, ruled that a woman can't compete in women's sports because her body naturally produces "too much" testosterone. Castor Semenya, a world class track star from South Africa, was born (and continues to be) female. However, because her body produces abnormally high levels of testosterone, the primary male sex hormone, the international body has stopped her future participation in events they govern. In order to participate, she must take medication to artificially lower her testosterone to their 'acceptable' levels.
According to the court, "there can be no suggestion that Ms. Semenya (or any other female athletes in the same position as Ms. Semenya) has done anything wrong. This is not a case about cheating or wrongdoing of any sort. Ms. Semenya is not accused of breaching any rule. Her participation and success in elite female athletics is entirely beyond reproach and she has done nothing whatsoever to warrant any personal criticism."
Regardless, because of her natural characteristics, she's being punished. She must choose between taking (potentially) 'performance reducing drugs' or ceasing to compete with female athletes in major competitions. Do we ask Michael Phelps to produce more lactic acid? Giannis Antetokounmpo to reduce his wingspan? Isn't the point of professional (and international amateur) athletics to celebrate our fellow humans who have been blessed with abnormal traits and abilities? Since when do we handicap our best to make competition "fair"? "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind," and a handicap on a gift makes the whole world ordinary.
I now defer to the great Kurt Vonnegut, whose entertaining and prescient stories seem to gain value each day. When I first thought about Semenya's situation, I immediately thought of Harrison's. This is one of the great modern American short stories, a work that fits as well with Orwell's 1984 as current events. If you've never read "Harrison Bergeron," or if you haven't read it in years, this week seems like a good time for it. More about Semenya, common sense, and justice coming soon...
by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren't only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.
Some things about living still weren't quite right, though. April for instance, still drove people crazy by not being springtime. And it was in that clammy month that the H-G men took George and Hazel Bergeron's fourteen-year-old son, Harrison, away.
It was tragic, all right, but George and Hazel couldn't think about it very hard. Hazel had a perfectly average intelligence, which meant she couldn't think about anything except in short bursts. And George, while his intelligence was way above normal, had a little mental handicap radio in his ear. He was required by law to wear it at all times. It was tuned to a government transmitter. Every twenty seconds or so, the transmitter would send out some sharp noise to keep people like George from taking unfair advantage of their brains.
George and Hazel were watching television. There were tears on Hazel's cheeks, but she'd forgotten for the moment what they were about.
On the television screen were ballerinas.
A buzzer sounded in George's head. His thoughts fled in panic, like bandits from a burglar alarm.
Because no one else