Back in March, the Idaho State Legislature passed a law that would ban transgender girls/women from competing in girl’s/women’s sports. A young transgender woman hoped to compete on the Boise State cross country team; that law barred her from competing and she sought a remedy in Federal court. Earlier this week, a Federal judge issued a preliminary injunction on the Idaho law that will nominally allow this young athlete to compete pending the outcome of her lawsuit. This may seem at first to be a small occurrence in a niche sport, but about a dozen states now have various laws in progress through state legislatures that bear on this matter.
In reading about this case, I was surprised to learn that the NCAA actually has a rule in place that requires a transgender athlete to undergo a year of “hormone treatment” to achieve NCAA eligibility. It seems that the basis for that rule is the reduction of testosterone levels in the transgender athlete in an attempt to prevent a male athlete who is not good enough to make a men’s team declaring himself a woman and gaining access to that squad.
This issue arises from the fact that in 2020 the concept of “gender” is not nearly as binary as it was even 50 years ago. About 40 years ago, the movie Fast Break involved a woman who masqueraded as a man in order to play guard on a fictional college basketball team; only 20 years ago, Juwanna Mann was a movie about a female impersonator joining a women’s basketball team. It was not so long ago that transgender sports were thought of in comedic terms as often as they were in serious terms. Such is not the case now simply because the entire concept of gender is now part of serious controversy.
It appears to me that there is an ironic angle to the Federal judge’s ruling issued earlier this week. On the surface, it would seem totally fair and reasonable to allow the plaintiff here to compete until there is an ultimate ruling on her litigation. To bar her participation would impose a penalty on her until such time as her case is resolved. However, Boise State is a member of the Mountain West Conference and that conference has already declared that there will be no “Fall sports” in 2020 because of COVID-19. So, she will not be competing for at least another year.
More than occasionally, I express skepticism here about the efficacy of legislators’ attempts to regulate sports. This law passed in Idaho would fall into a category that would appear to be intractable. On one hand, the legislature seeks to define gender at a time when there is serious debate regarding what gender is. And on the other hand, it seeks to provide for fair competition in women’s sports – which is a noble goal even if it may not be a primary concern for a legislative body.
Moving from the courtroom in Idaho to the campus of UNC, the school decided to shut down in-person classes and go completely to on-line classes in Chapel Hill because of an outbreak of COVID-19 among the student body. The outbreak did not reach the football team and while students are removed from normal class environments, the UNC football team keeps on keeping on as it prepares to play out its season as part of the ACC. There have been events in UNC history where it appeared as if the athletics were paramount when compared to the academics. [Recall the classes that never met and never required any tests or term papers to receive a high grade and credits to keep athletes eligible at UNC.] The current situation once again gives the appearance of the tail wagging the dog in Chapel Hill…
Recent advances in understanding the longer-term consequences of COVID-19 have shown that more than a few people who have tested positive and then recovered from COVID-19 carry internal effects from their period of infection. Terms such as “multisystem inflammatory syndrome” and “hyperinflammatory response of the body” and “cytokine storm” may not be used every day in discourse – – but they are recognizable to a much greater extend than they were only a month ago. One of the things we have learned over the timeline of COVID-19 is that one of the lingering internal effects of the infection is myocarditis – – inflammation of the heart muscle itself. One of the things caused by myocarditis is irregular heart rhythm.
An assumption that many people seem to make is that young and well-conditioned athletes may contract the coronavirus but that they will fight it off and recover from it in a reasonable amount of time. For the readily observable symptoms of the disease – – dry cough, fever, loss of smell, etc. – – that appears to be the case. However, Red sox pitcher, Eduardo Rodriguez, ought to give players and coaches and sports leaders some pause.
Rodriguez had the coronavirus and eventually shed all the observable symptoms; he looked to be “cured”. As the Red Sox prepared to start their delayed and truncated season, he threw a bullpen session and felt exhausted at the end – – a tiredness well beyond what would have been normal. Subsequent tests showed that Rodriguez has myocarditis because of his COVID-19 event. Here is why I think this is a big deal:
- Myocarditis can cause irregular heart rhythm and irregular heart rates.
- Those are the cardiac events that killed two young and well-conditioned athletes named Reggie Lewis and Hank Gathers.
- Lewis passed out in an NBA playoff game. After treatment in a hospital he was practicing three months later and died on that court. He was 28 years old.
- Gathers collapsed during a conference tournament basketball game. He was rushed to a hospital where he was pronounced dead and the cause of death was hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. He was 23 years old.
Neither Lewis nor Gathers suffered from COVID-19 but their deaths involved cardiac issues that are related to the myocarditis condition that is noted as a consequence of COVID-19. This should not be taken to mean that young athletes might be dropping like flies after recovering from COVID-19; what this ought to be taken to mean is that there could be risk of the ultimate after-effect from COVID-19 in a few young athletes. That ought to be too serious to ignore.
Science is a learning process. COVID-19 has been around for such a short time that science – and scientists – are still in the learning process. I think at this point in our understanding, we have to avoid a panic reaction to bad news by imagining the worst AND at the same time, we have to be mindful that incredibly serious consequences can be associated with the disease and even with recovery from it.
Finally, on a somewhat lighter note, here is COVID-19 item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:
“Destined to be a hot-selling bumper sticker in south Florida: ‘Honk if you’re a Marlin who hasn’t contracted COVID.’”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………