By Ryan Tibbens
Disclaimer -- This article took over a month to right, not for lack of ideas or research, but for lack of a conclusion. This ClassCast segment -- in which Jessica Berg and Ryan Tibbens discuss the US Soccer pay gap, women's sports, and more -- helps to explain the delay and some of the nuances (hopefully) addressed in this article: https://youtu.be/rf0xd68U0RI. Consider this ClassCast clip a companion to the essay below.
Let's get this out of the way: I support the US Women's National Soccer team and their fight for better compensation. If I had to guess, you probably do too. There are already TENS OF THOUSANDS of articles on that subject (really, just Google "US Women's Soccer Pay"), many of which, particularly in light of the women's 4th World Cup Championship, are overwhelmingly in favor of the women's pay demands. However, this is not one of those essays. Everyone on the planet has beaten me to it, including Uncle Snoop.
Besides, the concern about pay (Why is there a pay difference between male and female athletes who play the same sports?) isn't even the most interesting question. Most writers and pundits ask about pay, then dive into the nuances of wage scales, advertising revenues, attendance figures, winning percentages, civil rights, common decency, and the rest. They're right. Researched, reasoned argument is the only way to understand the basic question and make a fair decision. Unfortunately, their results are often misleading or incomplete because those people did not address the full dilemma. The most interesting question in this US Soccer situation is about structure: Why do we maintain separate men's and women's teams in the first place?
Your answer to this question becomes the foundation for your argument about equitable pay.
1) This essay focuses upon asking questions more than answering them. The ultimate goal is to arrive at an ethical, just answer that can be applied across similar disciplines. I'm certain other people will offer better answers than I can.
2) I am an upper-middle class, white, male teacher who played multiple sports and coached co-ed and girls' sports.
3) I have a daughter and a son, both of whom I hope compete in athletics some day. They deserve access to the same opportunities and experiences.
This is my problem: Questions beget questions. I can't begin to ask, and certainly can't answer, the question about sexual division of sports if I don't first understand the purpose of sport.
Remember that sport is, by definition, competition intended for recreation and/or entertainment. In an evolutionary sense, participation in athletics provides people opportunities to prove their physical and genetic fitness, but they are luxuries -- few people waste time on games when their next meal or shelter are uncertain. Plus, sports are fun. Most are fun to play recreationally AND fun to play more seriously, when practice and process become essential. In fact, most people play sports, or at least started playing, because they love the games; they are fun. This is no trivial matter. US Courts have repeatedly ruled on issues of equal access for people of various demographics and abilities in the arena of sport.
In Justice, philosophy professor Michael Sandel breaks down a sports controversy (the PGA and Casey Martin's request for a cart due to disability) by starting with the purpose of sport. Even though the Court sided with Martin, Justice Antonin Scalia dissented with words that ring on in every sports equity argument because he actually considered the purpose of sport.
Sandel writes, "Justice Antonin Scalia disagreed. In a spirited dissent, he rejected the notion that the Court could determine the essential nature of golf. His point was not simply that judges lack the authority or competence to decide the question. He challenged the Aristotelian premise underlying the Court’s opinion—that it is possible to reason about the telos, or essential nature of a game:
Sandel continues, "Since the rules of golf 'are (as in all games) entirely arbitrary,' Scalia wrote, there is no basis for critically assessing the rules laid down by the PGA. If the fans don’t like them, 'they can withdraw their patronage.' But no one can say that this or that rule is irrelevant to the skills that golf is meant to test."
If we understand that sport is, fundamentally, about recreation and entertainment, our thinking becomes more clear. Recreation implies that the participants are having fun, perhaps even playing in their spare time. Entertainment implies that the spectators are having fun. When it comes to large venues and televised games, entertainment can't be argued. And while some athletes play purely for money, most acknowledge that love for the game lives on. Through this lens, it seems that we have the problem backward -- the men are overpaid rather than the women underpaid. If this is simply for recreation, for "sport," then we can reasonably assume that most of the athletes would still participate, even if paid less. Considering the US Women's National Soccer team's roster, participation, success, AND pay complaints, we already have proof that skilled people will play the game for less. So maybe the men should make less?
For some, that solves the problem: we end the pay gap by reducing the men's pay. Most people don't love that, though. They want equality up, not down. They might point out that US Soccer, Nike, FIFA, and a few dozen other companies profit off these athletes' labor and images. They say that the athletes deserve a cut. This isn't just about fun. And that seems reasonable too. Big man Dr. Shaquille O'Neal (great basketball player, big personality, and savvy businessman who now holds a doctorate in education) understood the conflict between money and purity of the game early in his career when he joked: "I’m tired of hearing about money, money, money, money, money. I just want to play the game, drink Pepsi, wear Reebok." After several successful seasons in the NBA, Shaq went back and finished his bachelors degree (and later his doctorate); at graduation, he told the crowd, "Now I can go and get a real job."
Unfortunately, we've reverted to the pay argument without resolving the root question. And that is dangerous because, based on viewership and financials, the women might be arguing from a position of weakness. Based purely on global viewership and profitability, women's soccer (even among great teams) is undeniably losing to men's. Even when raw numbers are meant to show women's soccer to be more lucrative, they don't take into account how many extra games women played to generate the advertising and attendance revenue. Regardless of data interpretation, none of these questions, about pay and sponsorship and the rest, can reasonably be solved if we don't first answer why the sexes are separated in sport.
I was blindsided by this question a couple of months ago. At that time, I wrote a short article about Castor Semenya and her fight with the Court of Arbitration for Sport. I ended that article by saying, "More [...] coming soon." But I never followed up because shortly after writing the article, two issues changed by thinking and my questions. I haven't forgotten the follow-up; I just haven't figured it out yet.
Here's why. First, Castor Semenya is intersex. To my knowledge, none of the major news or sports outlets covering the CAS/IAAF included details about Semenya's biology in their initial reporting. Based on those incomplete reports, masses of people (and I) were outraged that a woman with natural gifts would be handicapped or excluded, but that wasn't exactly the situation. While she demonstrates external characteristics of a female human, Semenya is 46XY, meaning that chromosomally, she is male. Her testosterone levels are in the typical male range and well above the normal female range. Also, many 46XY women have testes, often internal in place of ovaries, which boosts testosterone levels. The CAS's ruling about testosterone levels and participation do not apply to chromosomally normal women because no 'normal' woman has ever achieved a testosterone level high enough to break their threshold without significant performance-enhancing drugs. So Semenya has a choice: take a birth control pill (or comparable medicine) to lower her testosterone and compete as a woman, enter men's races, or race at events not regulated by CAS/IAAF. Suddenly the issue of "handicapping" a natural talent doesn't seem to fit the situation. And if the organization's ruling seems unfair, then perhaps it is because male and female athletes shouldn't be separated anyway.
That's the second reason I never revisited or concluded my Semenya piece: I ran into the question about sexual division of sports. It's not that the concept had never crossed my mind before. I've coached coed varsity golf teams as well as girl's JV softball and recreation events. But when responding to a friend's post about the Semenya decision, a well-meaning SJW challenged my position by questioning the sexual divisions. It soon became obvious that this man had never played nor coached competitive athletics and knew little about sport. I was ready to write off his concerns. But with only a little reflection, I realized that he had a point -- if we believe in the equality of the sexes, then why separate them at all?
Something I now try to teach in my rhetoric and argument classes is about premises and why to reject them. Too often we get tangled up in arguments that don't feel right, that don't allow us to fully answer or to explain the nuances of our answers. That is often because we've accepted someone else's premise. The argument about equal pay is built upon many, many assumptions, including that men and women should be paid equal wages for equal work and that sports should be segregated by sex. But I'm not sure either of those are fair here, and probably for the same reason.
Men and women are different. On average, men are taller, stronger, and faster; they have more lean skeletal muscle, denser bones, and more aggressive behaviors. If we accept those differences, then the sexual division of athletics makes sense. And perhaps we should. At the youth, high school, and even collegiate levels, participants often learn a variety of personal and life skills while building fitness, confidence, and friendships. If men and women competed together, it is likely that few young women would make varsity teams. Consider that "Just in the single year 2017, Olympic, World, and U.S. Champion Tori Bowie's 100 meters lifetime best of 10.78 was beaten 15,000 times by men and boys. (Yes, that’s the right number of zeros.) The same is true of Olympic, World, and U.S. Champion Allyson Felix’s 400 meters lifetime best of 49.26. Just in the single year 2017, men and boys around the world outperformed her more than 15,000 times." But what about in professional sports? As professionals, participants should be elite, the best of the best. If the men are that much better, faster, stronger, why do we maintain women's leagues and tournaments?
US Women's Soccer star Megan Rapinoe said, “I think we’re done with: Are we worth it? Should we have equal pay? Is the market the same? Yada yada," adding, “We — all players, every player at this World Cup — put on the most incredible show that you could ever ask for. We can’t do anything more, to impress more, to be better ambassadors, to take on more, to play better, to do anything. It’s time to move that conversation forward to the next step.” But if we reject the premise that women should play separate from men, we have to ask -- is that true? Was it the most incredible show? Could someone play better? Again, I don't mean to be an ass -- I support the women's cause and believe they deserve a raise. But is equal pay really fair?
Another premise worthy of examination is that of collective bargaining. The men bargained hard for individual bonuses; they took greater risks in exchange for more aggressive pay scales. If a man makes the general roster but isn't dressed and on the field for a game, he receives no money. Women get paid for each game simply for being on the roster. Some of the pay differences are the result of different priorities and bargaining strategies. Which brings us back to a concerning premise -- whether men and women play together or not, why should they negotiate separately? They do the same job for the same company with the generally the same requirements. They are all elite athletes in their categories and they all equally represent the organization and United States. If we reject the premise of separate contract negotiations, then the pay disparity dissolves.
So it seems we've arrived at a conclusion, which is not really a conclusion at all. It is a series of questions that US Soccer, FIFA, the athletes, and the fans must all consider. What is the purpose of the sport? Why do men and women play separately? Why do men and women negotiate their contracts separately? I'm inclined to respond "for entertainment," "because it allows women to compete and enjoy too," and "because no one is thinking clearly."
So here's the solution. From now on, have all men's and women's players negotiate together. Players should be signing essentially the same contracts; they should be entitled to the same percentages of profits from jersey and merchandise sales, ticket sales, and TV advertising sales. If we base all this purely on physical might, then the men deserve most of the money. If we base it on previous labor agreements, then the men deserve most of the money. But if we acknowledge that the players on both teams support greater equality, then simply group them together as common employees for negotiation purposes. I'm still undecided on the sexual separation of professional sports. I'm still undecided on the entertainment-to-dollar value of professional sports. But I'm fully decided on this -- if the men and women work together in their contract negotiations, the pay gap will disappear, the equity and justice will increase, the conflict will dissolve, and the incentive for young men and women to compete will increase.
UPDATE: In this OPEN LETTER, US Soccer President Carlos Cordeiro explains the collective bargaining differences between the men's and women's teams as well as the varied (and sometimes better) compensation the women receive. The conclusions above, regarding the premises of segregated sports and, more importantly, segregated bargaining, remain intact. But this statement is worth reading.
~~Don't forget to check out this segment from the ClassCast podcast, Episode 003~~
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.
By Ryan Tibbens
It has come to my attention that the Eastern Hellbender is about to be named the official state amphibian of Pennsylvania. As such, it is a no-brainer to rename the Harrisburg Senators, the beloved minor league baseball team, as the Harrisburg Hellbenders. While that is the obvious name choice, this awesome amphibian also goes by snot otter, mud devil, Allegheny alligator, devil dog, and lasagna lizard. Not only is the name far more interesting, appealing, and intimidating, but it also offers a subtle commentary on the state of politics in the state and country. Most Americans would rather cheer for the Hellbender -- a two foot, nocturnal amphibian native to Pennsylvania -- than most elected officials. So, this is our chance to do it. The similarities are striking -- the team plays on an island in a river, plays mostly night games, and is good enough to deserve a more unique, spirited name. Plus, think how much better the logo and merchandise will be. Please sign this Change.org petition (our first at Read.Think.Write.Speak.), share it far and wide, and get ready to cheer on the Harrisburg Hellbenders in 2020!
by Ryan Tibbens
Over the last couple weeks, I've watched and listened to sports commentators, political analysts, comedians, athletes, politicians, keyboard warriors, and, well, it seems like almost everyone, argue about Colin Kaepernick and the recent national anthem protests. I've chimed in a few times, but mostly I've stayed out of it. In the last three days, I've been directly asked five times what I think. It's a little lengthy, but here's why you should be fine with the protests.
I think the protests are fine. I stand for the national anthem and for the Pledge of Allegiance. I'm not offended if others don't. It's a free country. If you love the freedom of expression, it means that you love it even when it is exercised in ways you don't agree with or by people you don't like. I believe there are certain things people usually shouldn't say, but I don't suggest we legislate the language, and I don't think there should be public outrage or persecution as long as the statements are nonviolent. Sometimes I hear things I don't like, and I just let them go. This protest hurts no one, so if you disagree, the smart move is to let it go.
I recently saw a friend, a fellow teacher, post about his disagreement with and disgust for the anthem protests. He claimed that he was upset about the form of the protest, his perceived disrespect to our flag and nation and soldiers and all that, but that he was fine with players' desires for greater racial equality. I asked him what he does when students don't stand for the Pledge of Allegiance in school. I asked if their decision not to stand skewed his opinion of the students. He said he does nothing and that he is not biased against them. He said that his opinion of them is unaffected because he doesn't know their reasons. So, despite his claims, his disgust must be based, at least in part, on the protest's motives, not acts, because those same displays are tolerable from other people at other times. I suspect that most people who complain about the sitting or kneeling hold the same bias, at least subconsciously.
I've also noticed that many people complaining about the protests are hypocrites. Not everyone, but many people. Most of my friends who disagree with the protests are also those who claim to hate political correctness. They say people should toughen up and get over it; they say life isn't always fair. Political correctness is about adjusting your words and actions so as to avoid insulting or disrespecting other groups of people. But these same complainers say they feel insulted or that soldiers may feel disrespected or that veterans are hurt by these acts. If it's okay to offend some people sometimes, then it's okay to offend other people other times. You can't have it both ways. How about the fact that nearly all of my friends who support displays of the Confederate battle flag also strongly oppose Kaepernick's protest? They say they support the first amendment right to fly a flag and that they want to celebrate their heritage and that it was their ancestors' right to rebel and secede. They are defending a flag and a group of predominantly white people who took up arms against the United States of America in hopes of maintaining the institution of racial slavery. If the Confederacy's bloody resistance was just, then how is Kaepernick's quiet and peaceful protest unjust? If it is okay for someone to fly the Confederate flag, regardless of how it may make neighbors feel, then how is it so upsetting for a football player to choose to kneel during a song? These same hypocrites say they are sick of people complaining about Confederate flags, sick of people championing political correctness and limiting their freedoms. You can't have it both ways.
White people complain about race riots. White people complain about civil rights parades. White people complain about traffic stoppages. Now, a low-level celebrity (catapulted to greater fame by this "controversy") is the subject of white complaint because he quietly, respectfully, and purposefully chose not to stand during the national anthem. Many people may disagree with my assertion that this protest is respectful, but consider that these football players are not interrupting the anthem: they're not shouting, cussing, spitting, rolling around, fighting, running, trampling flags. Nothing. They're just not standing. In fact, they are kneeling: a gesture that, in nearly every other setting, is considered an act of reverence. And suddenly this is an outrage. I suspect if Tim Tebow had knelt to pray during the national anthem, many white, Christian Americans would have cheered. While our country has come a long way in terms of human and civil rights for all people, we still have a long way to go. Compare poverty, education, healthcare, employment, home ownership, incarceration, average pay, or nearly any other aspect of quality of life -- you will find disparities, often large gaps, between racial groups in the United States. You will also find them between the sexes, but that's a different protest I suppose. These men are not wrong about their cause; their complaint is reasonable and worth discussing. So if the protest isn't really intrusive or abusive, and if the cause is just, how can we be upset about it? It's fine to say you would do it differently, but I don't think it makes sense to accuse them of wrongdoing. White people used to complain about black people at their dining counters or in their bus seats or in their schools. Maybe we should quit complaining when other people want to talk about inequality.
Because no one else