N.T.: ... [L]et’s move to the athletes, and one of the most important to watch: Caster Semenya, the South African middle-distance star, who has what are called “intersex conditions.” She has always identified as a woman, but she has many of the physiological features of a man, including internal testes and an exceptionally high testosterone level. Do you think she should be allowed to compete as a woman?Gladwell justifies banning Semenya because her body produces too much testosterone:
M.G.: Of course not! And why do I say of course not? Because not a single track-and-field fan that I’m aware of disagrees with me. I cannot tell you how many arguments I’ve gotten into over the past two weeks about this, and I’ve been astonished at how many people fail to appreciate the athletic significance of this. Remember, this is a competitive issue, not a human-rights issue. No one is saying that Semenya isn’t a woman, a human being, and an individual deserving of our full respect.
David Epstein wrote a characteristically brilliant piece for Scientific American last week in which he quoted the philosopher Bernard Suits, who once described sports as “the voluntary acceptance of unnecessary obstacles.” And that’s what’s at issue here. Semenya is equipped with an extraordinary and anomalous genetic advantage. The previous policy of international track was that she could compete as a woman if she took medication to lower her testosterone to “normal” levels. That restriction has now been lifted. And so we have a situation where one woman, born with the biological equivalent of a turbocharger, is now being allowed to “compete” against the ninety-nine per cent of women who have no such advantage.Imagine walking this idea back to other sports. Basketball, particularly, would change dramatically: the 99th percentile of the general population is somewhere between 6'2" and 6'3" (PDF), yet the average center from the 2015 draft is 6'11". Football weeds out an astonishing 300 out of a potential one million or so high school candidates; what are we to say to those who didn't make it? Change the rules so big men can't play? And horse racing: Secretariat's twenty-two pound heart, nearly three times that of an average horse, fueled his astonishing runs, such as the 1973 Belmont Stakes:
Should we thus take ultrasounds of every race horse to determine heart size, and disqualify outliers? Sports generally are a game of populations, with competition excluding the unfit. That is, they celebrate genetic freaks. "The voluntary acceptance of unnecessary obstacles" does not and should never include the gifts of birth. In that, Semenya mounts a direct attack on liberal sexual blank slatism that confuses absence with prejudice, all the while tickling the nerve centers of the right energizing anti-doping frenzies. It's a wonder she wasn't burned at the stake.