There will be someone missing from the 78th Gold Key Dinner on April 28. Someone with courage, and vital to the spirit of what athletics and high school transgender athletes should mean to the state of Connecticut and around the world.
It will be a shame.
The five Gold Key Award recipients, including ESPN founder Bill Rasmussen, are expected to there at the Aqua Turf Club in Southington. And has there been anything more powerful or wider-reaching in the past generation of sports media than ESPN of Bristol?
Who won’t be there, yes, that is what is upsetting.
This piece may remain the domain of Greenwich and Manchester in Connecticut, or may stretch across the Atlantic to Greenwich and Manchester in the U.K. There’s no way of knowing with this global argument. A Hearst GameTimeCT video clip of one of the high school races involving transgender athletes last year, for instance, has been viewed a million times around the world.
— GameTimeCT (@GameTimeCT) June 4, 2018
If this does go beyond our state borders, background is in order. The Gold Key, inaugurated in 1940 by the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance, annually recognizes men and women who have made great contributions or achieved excellence in the field of athletics. A Yale first baseman named George Bush who became the 41st president of the United States won the Gold Key. So did golfer Bobby Jones, boxer Willie Pep, Mr. Hockey Gordie Howe, and on and on. For the international track crowd: Two of our Connecticut guys, Lindy Remigino, the 1952 100-meter dash gold medalist, and Bill Rodgers, the Boston Marathon champion, won Gold Keys.
It is easy to see why the Gold Key is regarded as the highest sports award in our state. There are other prestigious honors accorded during the dinner, too. One is the Bob Casey Courage Award, an award that invariably draws tears and a standing ovation. Most often the winner has battled life-threatening disease or great affliction. Yes, this is where real athletic courage is found.
And while the CSWA directed the 2019 award toward a societal debate, courage remains a central truth with transgender co-recipients Andraya Yearwood of Cromwell High School and Terry Miller of Bloomfield High.
To continue to compete, to continue to win, even as petitions arose that would exclude them, to hear occasional ugliness cast their way, to read Internet screeds directed toward them. Yes, they are young people of courage.
The discouraging truth is the CSWA only went halfway in naming Yearwood and Miller.
The other half belongs to the girls who dedicated so much of themselves and were denied state titles competing against the two. The girls who ran their hearts out, swallowed their tears and refused to complain publicly. I’ve seen it up close. They are the other half of this remarkably complex and remarkably contentious story. They are every bit as courageous.
They are the someone missing from the 2019 Bob Casey Courage Award. And damn right, it’s a shame.
The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference rules follow applicable Connecticut and federal laws. If a student identifies as a gender and the school district agrees, the student can compete as that gender. Other states have rules spanning the spectrum from hormone therapy, surgery, waiting periods all the way to a rigid standard of birth certificate designation. There is no all-encompassing national high school rule. It’s all over the place.
I have written this before and will write it again: Denying a transgender athlete a chance to compete with the gender of his or her choice is wrong. To deny that opportunity at a delicate age when drug use and suicide are realities for those who wrestle with gender and sexual identity lowers the standards of our humanity. We must be better than that.
Yet at the same time, to have biological boys running against biological girls in a high school foot race is not — on that day, at that moment — a level playing field. And if it happens in the biggest moments of a young person’s athletic life, the results can be heartbreaking and, yes, unfair. We must be smart enough to push for the best solution for our high school athletes.
I hope I have angered both rigid sides of the issue with the previous two paragraphs, because both paragraphs can be true at the same time. They are true.
Yearwood and Miller have won state titles in sprint events. Miller has gone on to capture New England championships. Their stories have been well-told: Yearwood generous enough to share her story with the state media; Miller denying repeated requests before going straight to ABC’s “Good Morning America” in June.
Here’s the worst-kept secret in the world, folks. We have been an agenda-driven, identity-driven society, and the complicated high school transgender sports issue somehow has become an easy call for many. Spoiler alert: Don’t mistake my passion for greater understanding as a weak-kneed cop-out.
After writing on this issue the past few years, I have received emails and read other pieces that have left me shaking my head. One email will arrive with science absolutely proving a male transgender’s biological advantage. The next email will arrive with science proving that to be absolutely a great falsehood.
So much science. So little agreement.
And then there is the “fairness” debate. The overriding message by many is that life isn’t a level playing field. You didn’t have the genes to be 7 feet and I didn’t have access to great coaching. Nature and nurture are inherently unfair anyway. Frankly, some of it harkens to my college days of smoking weed and engaging in mental gymnastics. In the end, the only logical conclusion is to make men and women compete together. No distinctions.
And that’s illogical.
The arguments are everywhere: Create a transgender division. Let transgender boys compete with the transgender girls but don’t count the track results that affect both individual and team standings. And what about team sports? Etc. Etc.
When legislatures put in well-meaning transgender laws — ones I support — were they thinking about a 15-year-old kid sprinting down a track against another 15-year-old kid? I don’t think so.
The NCAA and the IOC have specific rules for transgender athletes. They, too, have changed over the years and have brought considerable debate and controversy. The best minds of science and best angels of our nature must continue to seek the best formula for a level playing field that includes transgender runners. I’m sure of that much.
But high schools? Where young people haven’t started any sort of treatment? Or have just begun and are limited in scope because of their age? And when one step over a state line could bring an entirely different rule?
Since announcing the award, CSWA president Tim Jensen has gotten plenty of negative response. They generally fall into two categories.
“One, they’re stealing scholarships from deserving girls — that’s not true,” Jensen said. “The second is why are you rewarding boys who aren’t good athletes, who cheat just to win a trophy?”
Those pushing the second point obviously aren’t worth debating publicly. Just email me your hate. I need a good laugh. As far as track is concerned, scholarships are ultimately given on times and distances. Since there aren’t many transgender athletes competing in a given state, it’s a limited argument.
What will happen in the future? What will happen if transgender athletes are allowed to compete without standards in college? What about the basic fairness of biological males vs. biological females in high school that cost kids forever championship memories? Forget right-wing extremists. These are heated arguments between progressive-thinking women.
It takes courage for transgender athletes to compete. In Connecticut, it also takes courage for cis girls to compete with dignity against them.
It’s a shame the Gold Key won’t honor the other half of an incredibly difficult situation.