Safety Is Disappearing from Women’s Sports. Are Women Soon to Follow?

Christiana Holcomb | September 22, 2021 | 2:23pm EDT
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Allison Stokke of Newport Harbor was among eight athletes to clear 12-3 (3.73m) in the girls' pole vault qualifying in the CIF State Track & Field Championships. (Photo credit: Kirby Lee/WireImage)
Allison Stokke of Newport Harbor was among eight athletes to clear 12-3 (3.73m) in the girls' pole vault qualifying in the CIF State Track & Field Championships. (Photo credit: Kirby Lee/WireImage)

Celine Provost is a French school teacher and female athlete whose preferred sport is mixed-martial arts, or MMA. Earlier in September, Provost competed in an MMA match against Alana McLaughlin—a former member of the U.S. Army Special Forces, an MMA rookie, and a man who claims a female identity.

As more men find their way into women’s sports, conversations have revolved around fairness and the natural athletic advantages that men possess over women. McLaughlin described finding an opponent as a “nightmare,” but Provost finally agreed to compete. She said she was not concerned with the danger.

“I train with men that are stronger than me all of the time. It doesn’t bother me at all,” Provost said. “We need to show that MMA is an inclusive sport.”

Provost has been in MMA training for 10 years—McLaughlin, for only a few months. MMA fights typically last for three five-minute rounds, with a one-minute break in-between. Provost, with her years of experience, looked like the superior fighter in the first round.

Halfway through the second, McLaughlin defeated her.

Fortunately, Provost was not seriously injured, unlike another female MMA fighter, Tamikka Brents, whose skull was fractured in a match against Fallon Fox, another male fighter who identifies as female. Fox (who inspired McLaughlin to enter women’s MMA) has since retired, but was there ringside, cheering McLaughlin on as he triumphed over his female opponent.

The outcome isn’t surprising. Male athletes consistently perform 10 to 50 percent better than comparably fit and trained female athletes. Researchers have found that this athletic edge remains even after two years of hormone suppression; in high school or college sports, those two years often comprise most of an athlete’s career. This is why we have separate sports for men and women.

Since 1972, thanks to Title IX, women and girls have safely competed against each other in high school and college athletics. However, gender-identity activists are tilting the level playing field girls once enjoyed, leaving female athletes at a disadvantage.

In Connecticut, two high school boys recently took 15 state championships in women’s track and field that once belonged to nine different girls. All they had to do was claim to be female, and Connecticut allowed them line up against their female peers.

Other states, seeing opportunities for women athletes slipping away, are passing legislation that will allow them to thrive in a safe, competitive environment. The same activists working to normalize men in women’s sports have challenged those laws time and again.

Lainey Armistead is a junior at West Virginia State University, where she serves as captain for the women’s soccer team. It’s her responsibility to represent her female teammates before the coaching staff or officials on the field. When West Virginia passed a law intended to protect women’s sports, Lainey felt relief, knowing she and her teammates would again be able to compete fairly.

Then the ACLU challenged the law, and Lainey knew it was time to speak up for her teammates again—this time, before a judge. My organization, the Alliance Defending Freedom, has asked that judge to allow Lainey to intervene in the lawsuit, and I have the privilege of being one of her attorneys.

Lainey is an aspiring law student herself, and achieving this goal would have been more difficult had it not been for the scholarship she received to play soccer at WVSU. She is one of millions of girls who have benefited from the equality and fairness that Title IX provides. In fact, 94 percent of female CEOs are former athletes. But what will the landscape look like if men are allowed to take roster spots from women who’ve worked to earn those positions?

Like that MMA fighter, Celine Provost, Lainey is no stranger to playing against boys. Her dad was an elite soccer player before he moved on to coaching Lainey and her brothers—whom she frequently played against, growing up. She knows how much stronger and faster boys are—and how much her safety depends on their willingness to hold back their superior strength on the field.

Can she and her teammates depend on that from the male athletes who would now meet them in competition?

Girls deserve to know they are entering their sport—whatever it is—with a reasonable expectation of safety. Otherwise, like the potential opponents who chose not to fight McLaughlin, they will soon disappear from their own sports, as their safety and fairness are increasingly compromised.

Christiana Holcomb (@ChristianaADF) is Legal Counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom (@Alliance Defends).

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