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Ohio girl doesn't belong on boys' football team

August 15, 2013 - Andrea Johnson
Here's a life lesson for young Makhaela Jenkins: Most boys are physically stronger than most girls.

Makhaela is the 12-year-old seventh-grader who wants to play on the boys' football team for her Baltimore, Ohio school district. The school superintendent has refused because the school district doesn't allow girls to play contact sports with the boys. The Ohio chapter of the ACLU has taken up Makhaela's cause and has sent a letter to the district saying that their policy violates a federal law banning gender discrimination in federally funded school programs.

I suppose the ACLU might be legally right, though I think they (and Makhaela's parents) are wrong from a common sense standpoint. Up until this point, Makhaela has played youth football with the boys. Up until this point, most of the boys she played with have probably been pipsqueaks who haven't yet had their growth spurts. Up until a certain point, young girls have the advantage over boys in height and weight because they mature a few years earlier.

But seventh grade is about the time that all that starts to change. Even if Makhaela is an unusually large girl, topping six feet in her stocking feet, well-muscled and well-conditioned (which, judging from the photo I saw, she is not), she is probably not going to have the upper body strength that her teammates will develop. Granted, there are girls playing on high school football teams all over the country, including 100 in Ohio, according to The Columbus Dispatch. Most of the girls on those high school teams seem to be kickers, though at least one in recent years has played quarterback.

I still think the school district's reasoning here is sound. My gut instinct is that Makhaela's presence on the team may mean two things: either the other players will hold back, not wanting to hurt a girl, or she could be badly hurt, trying to prove herself as good as her teammates. As far as I'm concerned, that's a "legitimate basis" for the school district's policy against contact sports for girls, even if the ACLU doesn't think so.

These inconvenient biological facts don't have anything to do with a girl's strength of mind and spirit or her equality under the law or her right to participate in school athletics. The Baltimore school district, like every other school district in the country, provides opportunities for girls to participate in athletics. Most school districts I've covered must make sure that they have an equal number of athletic teams for girls and boys, even if they aren't exactly the same. For that reason, the school district doesn't feel it's violating the law. I agree with them.


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