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Nicole Miller

Section 10

Everyone Wins with Separate Competition in Sports

I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I gave up the idea that I would someday make my living playing soccer professionally; that I would never compete in front of thousands of screaming fans or appear in Gatorade commercials or become a celebrity like my heroes at the time, Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain.  My realization was disappointing, but it never made me think less of myself: the percentage of athletes who go on from childhood to play their sport for a living is ridiculously small.  I could still play to reach my own potential, and that was good enough—it had to be.  At the end of the day, we need to look at situations with honesty and understand that achieving excellence is complicated: it requires more than desire alone and involves more than competing before crowds of cheering spectators.

“Being a Woman and Other Disabilities” asks whether competition has to be equal in every sense of the word, whether all groups must compete together, in order to avoid stigmatizing a particular group.  I would argue that not only can separate competitions and divisions in sports be non-discriminatory and fair, but that they are preferable almost all of the time.

Does equality mean having spectators present? This does not necessarily equate to the skill level or excellence of the athletes participating.  To use our university as an example , we have twenty-seven varsity sports teams, but only two or three of them (men’s football, hockey, and men’s basketball) could be considered “revenue sports”— the funds generated from the sport (tickets, sponsorships, etc.) are greater than the cost of operating the program.   The vast majority of teams, regardless of which gender is competing, play in front of a relatively small number of spectators or no spectators at all (e.g. crew). Having men and women (or disabled and able-bodied) athletes participate in the same competitions or divisions would not change this, so maybe having separate but equal competitions is advantageous.  This way, each athlete has a better opportunity to achieve at the highest level.  This does not mediocritize people; it simply recognizes that different groups sometimes have inherently different capacities for achievement.

To explain this idea further, separate competition is better than having the genders compete together at the highest level and having men always take the top spot.  If, for example, men and women ran together in a marathon, a woman would never be the best even though she is the best once you level the playing field.  And if wheelchairs competed with foot racers, the top wheelchair athlete would always beat the top foot racer.  This is a much less desirable situation—for athletes and spectators alike—than breaking persons down into logical categories so that they can compete more meaningfully.

At the end of the day, I would argue that maybe “disability in any given dimension” actually does “[represent] the left tail of a bell curve of that particular dimension” (Lavaque-Manty 146).  The disabled can be talented in multiple areas, but many times in sports, they simply do not have the power to compete alongside able-bodied athletes.  The same idea applies to women compared to men in sports.  For the small minority of competitions that are considered spectator sports, much of the appeal of watching them is that we get to witness performances that only a few people in the world can match.  Separate competitions enhance the spectator experience as well—so everyone wins.

Works Cited

LaVaque-Manty, Mika. The Playing Fields of Eton: Equality and Excellence in Modern Meritocracy. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. Print.

Works Consulted

University of Michigan Official Athletic Site. Web. 04 Dec. 2009. <http://www.mgoblue.com/school-bio/mich-varsity-sports.html&gt;.

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