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Scholars: Conservative politics, biases behind transgender sports bans, not fairness issues

Bans exist ‘despite a lack of consistent scientific evidence of unfair advantages’

A pair of scholars from the University of Florida have a study out which claims conservatives’ efforts to ban transgender athletes, in particular transgender women, from participating in sports is rooted in biases and politics, not concerns about fairness.

Professor of Sport Management George Cunningham and Department of Sport Management PhD student Kelsey Garrison (she/her/hers pronouns) go out of their way in The Conversation to avoid fundamental science — as in (biological) men are inherently stronger and faster — and their study poo-poos it.

“Whereas proponents of such bans commonly point to fairness and safety for athletes assigned female at birth, opponents cite the lack of empirical evidence for such claims,” the “State-Level Politics and Bias Predict Transgender Athlete Bans” study reads.

“These policies, and others like them, exist despite a lack of consistent scientific evidence of unfair advantages” (emphasis added).

(Biological) female volleyball players might quibble with this, not to mention female track and field athletes in Rhode Island and Connecticut, Big Sky Conference cross country runners, and Ivy League swimmers.

The authors note that with one exception, all states led by Republican governors had asked President Biden to hold off on Title IX changes which would “ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

MORE: Med school professors deny biological sex to avoid being called transphobic: report

This is because, they say, red states generally have “more restrictive views on civil rights issues” like immigration and capital punishment, and these now apply to transgender individuals.

“Conservative political leanings” also lead to “collective biases against transgender people, which in turn prompt [transgender sports] bans,” say Cunningham (pictured) and Garrison.

Political scientists have previously shown that politicians craft narratives and frame their arguments in ways that help shape people’s attitudes about social issues. In fact, people will sometimes adjust their perspectives to align with those held by their political representatives. That’s what we found. …

Proponents of transgender inclusion have offered counterarguments, showing that transgender athletes are not a threat to women’s sports, nor have they ever been.”

One of those counterarguments, linked by the researchers, is titled “The Future of Women’s Sport Includes Transgender Women and Girls” and states “transgender athletes are not and have never been a threat to women’s sport.”

The real threats, it says, are things like “unequal opportunities in participation and leadership, inequitable funding and pay, [and]  uneven media coverage.”

According to his bio, Cunningham runs the Laboratory for Diversity in Sport and his research deals with “diversity and inclusion in sport and physical activity.” Last year he said a study indicating black-coached college football teams are penalized more than white-coached squads was “compelling” and shows “another form of bias that Black coaches face.”

Garrison is involved in similar research, but “with a focus on the gender and LGBTQ+ community.”

MORE: Coach fired for saying biological men can outperform women in sports: lawsuit

IMAGES: rangizzz/Shutterstock.com; U. Florida

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Dave has been writing about education, politics, and entertainment for over 20 years, including a stint at the popular media bias site Newsbusters. He is a retired educator with over 25 years of service and is a member of the National Association of Scholars. Dave holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Delaware.