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A crowd of onlookers at a high school field hockey game in Swampscott was shocked last week after an incident involving a male and female player left the girl with serious facial and dental injuries.
The male Swampscott field hockey player took a shot in a corner penalty and hit the Dighton-Rehoboth female player in the face, sending her to the hospital. Since the incident, officials at Dighton-Rehoboth have called on the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association to change existing rules that allow boys to play on girls’ teams and girls to play on boys’ teams.
The MIAA recognized the “concerns that exist regarding student safety” but said it would not change the rules, citing Title IX and the Equal Rights Amendment.
We asked our readers if boys and girls should be allowed to play on any sports team, regardless of their gender. Of the 1,115 readers who voted, 89% said that there should be gender restrictions in youth athletics.
For most readers, the primary concern was for the safety of young female athletes, who readers argue are less capable of competing against the strength and size of their male counterparts. Physical differences can lead to unfair advantages for male players on female teams, Tron from Concord said.
“The reason youth, collegiate, and professional sports teams are separated by biological sex is the same reason why middle schoolers don’t play high schoolers and high schoolers don’t play collegiate teams: to promote competition and fairness among athletes with similar physical attributes,” he told Boston.com. “If you’re going to allow men to play on women’s sports teams, you’re disrupting the competitive balance of the sport while also subjecting those at the physical disadvantage (mainly women) to safety concerns.”
Tron also said the current rules take away opportunities for female athletes to play competitively.
“It’s terrible to think that these towns, schools, and colleges are removing opportunity and creating hardship for all girls, for the benefit of a small minority of men,” he added.
Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in school programs, including athletics. Schools aren’t required to offer the same sports for boys and girls, “but an equal opportunity to play,” according to the MIAA. In addition to those guidelines, Massachusetts schools must also comply with the Equal Rights Amendment, which is part of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights and Constitution and allows for mixed-gender teams.
The MIAA said in a statement that “boys have been competing on girls’ teams, and girls have been competing on boys’ teams, for more than forty years.”
A smaller portion, 10%, of readers agree with the MIAA. Rather than exclude male and female players from certain sports, readers said schools should ensure student safety with proper equipment and protective gear.
“This incident could have occurred with the shot being taken by another girl,” said T. Parker from Central Massachusetts. “Making changes based on this incident is short-sighted and inflammatory.”
We heard from readers on both sides of this issue, including some who previously played field hockey in the MIAA, sharing their thoughts on gender rules in youth athletics.
Some responses have been lightly edited for clarity.
“The physical differences make it increasingly dangerous for girls when a boy is on the opposing team. Sure, there can be exceptions, but why would you put the safety of children at risk? This is common sense, not discrimination.” — Charlie P., Dedham
“Boys, for the most part, are much stronger than girls and therefore [have] the possibility of harming girls. Plus, it certainly is lopsided, giving the team with boys the advantage. The tragic event that happened to this female field hockey player will more than likely leave scars and the possibility of never picking up a stick again. Plus, it could ruin a chance for her to go play in college, which boys are not allowed to do. Call me old fashioned, but I was never in favor of mixing boys on girls teams.” — Dottie L., Bellingham
“Having coached both boys and girls teams as well as raising both a boy and a girl, it is a resounding no. It has taken girls many years to reach parity in team sports similar to boys. To allow boys to play on female teams destroys what girls have built over the last 20 years. In ice hockey, our female teams played boys’ teams two years younger up to the age of 12 (boys aged 10). Early in the year, the girls would have the advantage but as the boys aged, they were the better competitors toward the end of the season. After age 12, boys had the decided advantage in the sport and the lack of parity became impossible at later age groups for females. I believe this is true across all sports. Support female teams by keeping males off female rosters.” — L, Falmouth
“To any boy playing against girls in any sport at the middle school level and up: Please find another sport to play. On top of being a safety issue, it is one of fair competition. Even a non-contact sport like cross country averages a large gap of over two minutes in a standard 5K race for girls and boys.” — Bob P., Nashua
“My daughter is a high school field hockey player. She is 5’2 and 120 lbs. I don’t believe she should have to compete against a boy in a physical sport. Not only is it dangerous, it is so unfair. Boys are larger, faster, and stronger. My daughter will not play with the same confidence if she is up against a full-grown boy (5’10”/150). Just imagine what these girls are feeling when one of these post-puberty boys is running towards them with a stick in their hand. They do not allow it in college so why should it be allowed in high school? Women have fought for their own sports teams. Why let boys take them over?” — Raquel, Franklin
“Student safety is paramount and whenever there is a question of mixing gender and physical safety, it will always be AFAB (assigned female at birth) girls who will be conceding to the boys. This is inherently unfair.” — Alex J., Newton
“Boys and girls should not be commingled in sports. Although, it should be said that girls in field hockey should be mandated to wear headgear. It seems silly waiting for trouble to not mandate that.” — Tom M., Framingham
“As a former collegiate athlete (a field hockey player, specifically) and one who played in the MIAA, I have unique insight into what playing in high school was like. I played against boys many times in my club career and the major issue was always that they were excellent players, having been forced to go through the kind of bigoted backlash we are seeing now. The boys that ended up playing were the ones that were so dedicated to the sport that they were willing to continue playing through the articles calling them dangerous and telling them a sport they loved wasn’t for them because of their sex. I am personally insulted, and I always have been, by the assumption that because of my reproductive organs, I was automatically ‘in danger’ and ‘outclassed’ the second a boy set foot on the field.
“The reality is field hockey is a dangerous sport. I saw many injuries and personally went to the emergency room for myself or others multiple times in my collegiate career. The [injuries] were all caused by women, every single last one of them. It is, quite frankly, delusional to think that your child can play any sport without ever getting injured. Injury is an unfortunate reality that no athlete can avoid.
“I can tell you with confidence that I was significantly stronger than every boy I played against in high school. I was also vigilant about wearing all the equipment necessary to keep me as safe as possible. It is incredibly insulting to me, and every other young woman who has worked hard to play at the level they are at, to say that any boy is automatically going to be stronger than them, faster than them, and has more potential than they do.
“I want you to step back and assess what you are telling your daughters when you express your ‘outrage’ over boys playing field hockey. What I hear, is that you think girls are too fragile to play a sport with boys, that they could never be at the same level of play as a boy, and even if they live up to their full potential – put in hours upon hours of training – that means nothing if there is a boy on the field.” — Kate G., Andover
“Considering this is the first time I’ve heard anything controversial about boys playing field hockey, despite the fact that has apparently been happening for decades, that must mean it’s not generally a problem. I think we can leave well enough alone.” — Mike B., Dover
“Title IX came about because there were girls who wanted to play sports but couldn’t because there were no girls’ teams available. To be fair, this ruling applies to all genders. I’m surprised that goalies on field hockey teams are not wearing more protective face gear, which I feel is the root of the problem for this situation. Are you telling me that a girl couldn’t have made the same shot that injured the goalie? I agree with the MIAA statement.” — Robin, Arlington
“Any player, no matter the sex, could have hit the player in the face on a corner penalty. Obviously, better equipment is needed.” — Jill, Boston
“As a male who played field hockey for two years in high school, I am a firm believer that Title IX should remain. This incident was not gender-related, as I was witness to a female teammate who was struck in the ear on a play where another female hit the ball in the air. There is clearly an equipment protection issue that, unfortunately, gets ignored in this scenario. I experienced a slew of harassment in my time playing field hockey from students at my school, students on other teams, their fans, and parents. It was not right, I was just a student-athlete like any of my teammates, trying to enjoy playing a fun game with friends. When someone gets hurt like this and people call out gender as an issue, they need to look inside their heart. We need to look at the facts. Gender does not prevent this from happening. Better coaching of techniques and better equipment will help, but certainly, there is a risk with any sport. I feel for both student-athletes and hope both get the support they need following such a traumatic incident.” — Ben, Malden
Boston.com occasionally interacts with readers by conducting informal polls and surveys. These results should be read as an unscientific gauge of readers’ opinion.
Correction: This story previously misstated the name of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association. We regret this error.
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