The wasted cultural obsessions of women’s sports

Forgive my tardiness in getting around to the case of Kye Allums, who plays for the women’s basketball team at George Washington University and is in the midst of a female-to-male transgender process.

I was waiting for the tidal wave of coverage about Allums’ story — much of it sympathetic to his situation — to subside. Much of what has been written and uttered is understandable, given the nature of his disclosure. I can’t imagine discussing such an intensely personal matter with anyone outside of family members or close friends.

It’s a fascinating and complex topic, starting with whether an athlete who identifies with a gender other than the one to which he/she was born should be allowed to compete with a gender of which he/she no longer desires to belong.

But as I read the various commentaries on Allums, I became profoundly disturbed. Not necessarily by Allums and what he represents (although I do, to a certain degree), but rather the hyperbole and occasionally mindless applause from some bloggers, journalists and advocates for transgender athletes.

Perhaps the most dubious analogy came from the usually reasonable Kevin Blackistone of FanHouse, who likened Allums’ “courage” to the Greensboro lunch counter sit-in demonstrators from 1960.

No, really.

Nobody wants to appear intolerant, of course, but there are some troubling implications here for women’s sports. It’s not entirely about whether a male-identified player should be able to play on a women’s team (more on that in a moment), but how some women’s sports advocates have no problem with their domain being used as a perpetual canvas for social experiments.

(And yet they remain oblivious to the attendant freak show headlines that have accompanied this story outside their coterie.)

Of course, for a certain slice of the sports feminist crowd, the whole athletic realm needs to be carpet-bombed to better suit women and those who don’t fit neatly into what they have long argued is a very tight box of gender conformity and those supposed “stereotypes.”

And while we’re a generation or so removed from the mere idea of female participation in athletics being regarded as a cultural “revolution,” we’ve long passed the notion that getting in the game is a head-turning event.

Haven’t we? Sometimes I’m not so sure.

The other major story on the women’s sports scene that’s been lost amid the clamor over Allums is the very precarious state of women’s professional soccer in the United States. The San Francisco Bay Area-based FC Gold Pride, which recently won the Women’s Professional Soccer league title, and the Washington Freedom, with U.S. star forward Abby Wambach, were reportedly on the verge of folding.

Now there are unidentified sources suggesting there may be a potential sugar daddy in southern California for Gold Pride, which boasts Marta, Brazil’s four-time FIFA world player of the year.

The disconnect between these two stories is gargantuan, and illustrates the one of the great weaknesses of the ever-fragile women’s sports movement.

Namely: That it is still stuck in the cultural and social undertow of its earlier phases, while the need — I would argue the imperative — to bolster the foundering business of women’s sports is not even an afterthought.

It may well be that women’s pro soccer just doesn’t have enough of an audience to make it as a spectator entity on these shores. That’s a possibility that first came to my mind after covering the Women’s United Soccer Association, the forereunner to the WPS. That league had Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Brandi Chastain and the other now-retired of the U.S. women’s national team.

Now its largely anonymous successors — save Wambach — are on the verge of what would be a humiliating exit from the 2011 Women’s World Cup.

That story, too, has gone virtually unnoticed outside of American soccer circles.

Another WPS team, the Chicago Red Stars, issued an unnerving statement this week about seeking new investors, in the larger context of the struggles of women’s pro sports.

This is where the fault line is clearly delineated but completely missed amid the self-congratulatory “acceptance” of Kye Allums, shrieking over the lack of women’s ski jumping at the Olympics and inane battle cries about making the athletic far too personal.

But those are topics for another time.

What do I really think about Kye Allums? Like his story, it’s complicated.

If he really does identify with being a male — and  apparently is going to do the surgical thing after his college basketball eligibility expires — then why in the world does he still want to play on a women’s team?

Why does he want to lay this narrative on a gender that he will be leaving behind, both psychologically and biologically?

Why, in God’s name, is the National Center for Lesbian Rights — which finally snared disgraced former Penn State women’s hoops coach Rene Portland after she was in its crosshairs for many years — taking up Allums’ cause? Here is someone who wants to leave The Sisterhood. He may have identified with sapphism at one point, but that’s clearly not the case now.

Why has GW coach Mike Bozeman said nothing more than this terse, university-issued statement of support for Allums? Is it because of a DC law forbidding discrimination against a transgender people? Would anything less than unequivocal support for Allums be grounds for a charge of bias?

This couldn’t have been what Bozeman — who’s overseen a major collapse of a program that Joe McKeown had built into the pride of the mid-majors — wants to deal with as he enters a season that could determine his fate at that school.

These are questions that were not raised during the breathless tributes to someone who clearly has gone through an excruciating ordeal. We live in a society that values what it believes is honesty, so it isn’t hard to discern why Allums would get props for going public.

But Allums’ act ultimately is a selfish one, and frankly, not all that courageous. As much as I wish him the best from here, he has managed to impose himself, unintentionally or not, onto a sport that gains nothing from him being there.

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