Robert Chatigny climbs into a black robe, grabs a gavel and has the words U.S. District Court placed in front of his title of judge, yet it doesn’t guarantee one thing.
That he will make anything more than a gutless decision.
The 23 members of the NCAA Board of Governors, chaired by Georgetown president John DeGioa and including former basketball star Grant Hill and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, is called to order. PhDs everywhere. Doesn’t guarantee one thing.
That this group featuring 17 current or former college presidents will demonstrate one shred more fortitude than a federal judge.
Chatigny couldn’t find the judicial gumption to rule either way Sunday on a lawsuit that sought to prevent transgender athletes from competing in girls high school sports in Connecticut.
Meanwhile, buried deep in a 9 p.m. press release on Tuesday, the NCAA slipped in a mention that its Board of Governors had voted unanimously to give Mark Emmert, the NCAA’s ineffectual and beleaguered president, a two-year contract extension through 2025. It was 26 nights after April Fool’s Day. So it had to be real.
Because you are smart, have a slew of impressive degrees and/or in a position of power doesn’t mean that when the yellow streak fits we can’t call you cowardly, craven, spineless, faint-hearted, lily-livered and … wait, got to check the spelling … pusillanimous.
We have gotten a PhD in pusillanimous this week.
When Chatigny dismissed the lawsuit by four state cisgender track runners against the Connecticut Association of Schools-CIAC for allowing athletes to compete based on gender identity, he did it on procedural grounds.
Sorry, Chelsea Mitchell of Canton. Sorry, Selina Soule of Glastonbury. Sorry Alanna Smith of Danbury and Ashley Nicolette of Immaculate. Your past performances evidently don’t mean anything.
Chatigny ruled that because the two transgender athletes, Andraya Yearwood of Cromwell and Terry Miller of Bloomfield had graduated and the plaintiffs could not identify any other female transgender athletes, there was no dispute to resolve.
“If it turns out that a transgender student does register to compete in girls’ track next season,” Chatigny wrote, “Smith and Nicoletti (who are still in high school) will be able to file a new action under Title IX along with a motion for a preliminary injunction.”
Chatigny must have been a football punter in his younger days, because he couldn’t have kicked the can farther down if he was Ray Guy in his prime. The plaintiffs have long argued they’d lost out on championships, state titles, records and subsequent accolades. Yearwood and Miller combined for something like 15 state titles. Whatever side you fall on in the over-arching transgender issue, those titles and record are real, those interests are real in court.
For Chatigny to ignore the substance of competition is, well, let’s put it this way: Justice is supposed to be blind, not without a spine. He didn’t make a call. He set no precedent. He gave no message of any gravitas. He provided no roadmap. Christiana Holcomb, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, said her clients will appeal in the next month. So Chatigny deferred. He took a pass. And you know what they say about justice delayed …
Yes, this is a hotly debated issue. In my mind, it’s an extremely difficult issue at the high school level. That’s why federal judges exist. To make the hard calls after great thought. It’s sad it dissolved into a battle of conservatives and liberals, who are further divided on Title IX and transgender athletes competing with cisgenders. It was garbage former President Trump’s Department of Education threatened to withhold federal funding from districts that allowed transgender athletes to compete on girls’ teams. That garbage ended with President Biden, but there hasn’t been an abiding answer and we need one.
In recent years, I’ve tried so many ways to explain that as caring humans we MUST allow transgender athletes in high school athletics competition. We MUST, especially during trying teenage years, treat them with the dignity and inclusiveness they deserve. Yet as impartial sportspeople we must also be willing to recognize that, on a given day, at a given time, a transgender athlete can have a competitive advantage. Those two things can be simultaneously true and, man, that assertion has gotten a lot of mud thrown at me from both sides.
Just throwing this out there …
If participation and inclusion is so much more important than results and medals, why must the transgender athletes’ times and finishes count in girls’ state meets.
If results count so much, why can’t transgender track athletes compete with the gender of identification yet the results and times count in a transgender division?
Why? Because so many people on either side want it 100 percent their way. Their agendas are loud and clear and evidently can scare federal judges.
There are people who will look you in the eye and say they have the science to prove men have no proven athletic superiority over women. There are others who will insist no amount of hormonal treatment should allow that athlete to compete with women.
I try to stay away from trigger words like “fair.” I don’t pretend to know what the best solution is for high school. But we have to get to as close to it as we can. The NCAA has rules. The international sports federations and Olympic committees have rules. High schools, where often hormonal therapy hasn’t started, has no national clarity.
Some states, like Connecticut, use gender identity. Others are based on sex at birth. Others in between or with no set rules. More than 30 states are considering banning transgender athletes from playing on girls’ high school teams. Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, South Dakota and Idaho already have. Instead of great federal judicial thought, which could lead to areas of agreement and cohesion, we have individual states filling the void. You know how that’s going to go. Further division.
Meanwhile, the only conceivable rationalization I can come up with for why the NCAA Board of Governors extended Emmert’s contract is that it wants to keep hiding behind him and let him take all the hits. Remember, those old inflatable clown punching bags that were weighted at the bottom so they’d bounce back up and you could punch them again? Some kids called them bop bags.
That’s Emmert. He gets paid nearly $3 million and when his name popped up on a list as possible LSU chancellor maybe the Board decided two more years at $3 million per was the cost of keeping that bob bag.
Emmert has a really tough job and he has only made it worse. The inequities of the men’s and women’s NCAA tournament brought a huge black eye to the NCAA and for a few days overtook the basketball itself. Gender equity isn’t a little thing. It’s a core value thing. An outside law firm has been brought in to examine significant inequities. And what? A month later, it’s all forgotten? Give the guy who is at the forefront of the mess a new deal?
The NCAA is in sore need of real commissioners like with the major leagues. More than that, with so many schools, there needs to be a real team of experts on the Board of Governors. College presidents have to run their campuses. There are a hundred other demands on them. The great majority aren’t equipped and don’t have the time to oversee the multi-billion dollar sports industry.
The Power Five conferences hoard the football money and, holding the threat of defecting, do mostly what they want. Look at Cincinnati, UCF, UConn and others fighting against that football cartel and losing millions upon millions. With so much uncertainty, look at a school like UHart trying to decide if they want to stay in D-I at all.
If you can understand how, when and to what extreme the NCAA decides to enforce its rules, please let me know. After a quarter-century I’m still guessing.
Without solving the Name Image and Likeness question and how athletes can be compensated, Emmert has put himself at the mercy or the courts and those who populate the U.S. capitol. Who knows how that will go?
And, as Pete Thamel of Yahoo has documented, Emmert badly misplayed the NCAA Tournament television deal and cost the colleges billions. Yahoo has also reported on the massive dissatisfaction with Emmert among the nation’s conference commissioners and college presidents and AD’s. Yet the Board of Governors vote 23-0 to keep Emmert and hide behind the bop bag.
Yeah, we got a PhD in pusillanimous this week.
[email protected]; @jeffjacobs123
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