All posts filed under: Sport

To Skate—Perchance to Soar

Nairobi, January 2021. Saturday morning. I whizz joyfully around the multi-coloured skatepark. Beneath my feet, the board responds with twists and turns. I apply pressure with my toes and heels. I pop its tail and jump. It rises into the air, lifting me with it. My confidence grows. Now I decide to drop in from the edge of the kidney shaped pool. My heart races. I fly into its deep end and carve around the bowl’s steep edges. But I am coming back over the hip when, abruptly and unexpectedly, the skateboard slips away from me. My fast-moving body obeys its own trajectory. I fly up, then down, before crash landing—arms splayed, chest first—on the hard concrete. The impact knocks the breath out of my lungs. I roll onto my back, gasping. Faces appear above me, silhouettes against the blinding equatorial sun. They keep saying sorry. What for, I wonder? It’s not their fault. It might seem odd, given that I am in a skatepark and far from the written word, but gathering my breath, …

The Rise, Fall, and Rise Again of Conor McGregor

Thou knowest this man’s fall, but thou knowest not his wrassling. ~James Baldwin One of the truest tests of a person’s character is how they respond to failure. Wins and losses come and go and we can’t always count on the desired result. What matters more than results is the process by which we navigate those wins and losses—the spirit of resilience developed under adversity and carried over every obstacle along the way. Accepting the challenges we encounter without fear of failure, no matter the risk or the odds, is one kind of victory, and those who can pull it off with style and grace reveal a bit of what human beings are capable. On January 23rd, on the secluded “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi, the most iconic, charismatic, and polarizing mixed martial artist to compete in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), “The Notorious” Conor McGregor, was knocked out in the second round by the Louisiana native Dustin Poirier, thereby avenging the latter’s first-round knockout defeat to McGregor back in 2014. A characterological cross between …

Accommodating Trans Athletes Without Rejecting the Reality of Human Biology

“As a social psychologist, I understand why using women’s sports to argue against transgender rights works,” tweeted behavioral scientist Matt Wallaert this week. “But it is tough to imagine a more morally bankrupt position: ‘I’m going to make you sit in a gender that doesn’t fit you so my daughter can win her soccer game.’” And when that tweet predictably attracted scathing criticism, he doubled down on his claim that women need to do their part in accommodating trans rights by becoming more graceful losers: “This really is it: I’d rather teach my kid how to lose well than how to win through oppression.” Walleart, best known for a Malcolm-Gladwellian 2019 business book called Start at the End: How to Build Products That Create Change, describes his approach as “a science-based process to create behavior change.” And so he offers a fitting stand-in for all the many other grandiloquent progressives who posture as rigorous scientists, even as they demand that sports leagues cast aside the plain biological reality of sexual dimorphism. The condescending, more-disappointed-than-angry tone …

Man vs. Wall: Solitary Sport and Surviving the Pandemic

This is the second instalment in Simple Pleasures, an occasional Quillette series about some of the new joys that our writers have discovered as a result of the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Writers interested in contributing may contact Quillette at pitch@quillette.com. The benefits of exercising with friends are compelling. For instance, people who make a habit of social sports like tennis and golf seem to live longer than those who don’t. Such findings have influenced me over the years, reinforcing lots of participation in my local tennis league. Then, COVID-19. Back in March, many of my hitting partners went on hiatus from the sport, honestly admitting their fears of getting sick, or blaming close family—they were the ones who were worried, refusing to let them play. Others rediscovered their inner teenage rebel. I heard about and saw esteemed members of the professional class—doctors and lawyers—ripping red tape, cutting locks, scaling fences, and squeezing through service gates to access public courts closed by the government. I was invited on these excursions but chose to …

The Troubled Maker: Transgressive Art, Public Shame, and Mike Tyson

In many ways, my personal experience with life after public shaming has gone exactly as one might expect: depressing, painful, and weird. Yet, at some point over the past three years, after managing the existential crisis of fractured identity, and learning to refrain from scratching at the phantom limb of my reputation, I’ve noticed something strangely liberating about it too. I no longer struggle to reconcile my blue-collar background with my former aspirations of being a successful and cool artist; I no longer find it necessary to cultivate the avant-garde persona of an active performance artist and theatre director. Instead of worrying about every detail of ignominy, I can finally indulge in vulgar interests like Monday Night Football, Bo Jackson YouTube compilations, or Mike Tyson’s latest exhibition bout against fellow boxing legend Roy Jones Jr. I didn’t even watch the fight, to be honest. I didn’t need to. At this point in his career, I’m more interested in Tyson’s redemption narrative than what remains of his athletic prowess. So I tuned in just in time …

Keeping Male Bodies Out of Women’s Rugby

From November 2015 until February 2020, World Rugby, rugby’s global governing body, incorporated guidelines established by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on transgender participation in sports. According to these rules, males who wish to self-identify into women’s rugby could do so if they committed to reducing their testosterone levels to 10 nmol per liter or lower for at least 12 months. (The average level for men is about seven times that level.) During this period, instances of biological males playing in the women’s game increased, and some participants began to express alarm. One rugby referee posted on the website Fair Play for Women, for instance, that “being forced to prioritize hurt feelings over broken bones exposes me to personal litigation from female players who have been harmed by players who are biologically male. This is driving female players and referees out of the game.” Another wrote, “I volunteer my time to officiate matches because I love my sport. But I won’t continue much longer if I have stay quiet about the unfairness I see on …

COVID-19 and the College Football Debate

Why should we have to go to class if we come here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS. ~Ohio State University football quarterback Cardale Jones, October 2012 tweet Last week, the question of whether or not the American college football season would start on time in the early fall got complicated. Some schools (with enrollments of up to about 50,000 students in total) had already opened for voluntary workouts. Now, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has approved a six-week plan that would allow student athletes to return to campus for pre-season workouts, and so testing for COVID-19 has begun. The results so far have been stark. Clemson University had 23 players test positive. There were 13 players with COVID-19 at the University of Texas in Austin. Ten athletes at Iowa State tested positive. The University of Alabama had eight, as did Kansas State University. University of Houston had six, Texas A&M had five, and Mississippi State had four. The list went on and on with more schools reporting …

‘Cancel Culture,’ Roaring Twenties-Style

The term “cancel culture” has become hotly contested of late. Critics say it is indiscriminately used to describe different degrees of mass opprobrium produced by transgressions that range from the trivial to the criminal. Now, while mob justice is never a particularly good idea, it is certainly true that some instances are more serious than others. Probably the worst kind involves a serious accusation made against a public figure, who is then investigated and cleared, but whose life and reputation are never allowed to completely recover. I was reminded of this reading Claire Lehmann’s recent essay about the fate of Giovanni da Col, a young man driven from the journal he founded amid accusations of sexual and financial impropriety, despite the fact that these claims had been investigated and found to be baseless. Woody Allen, meanwhile, had his career belatedly derailed by the reemergence of child molestation allegations, first made by his estranged partner Mia Farrow during an ugly custody fight in 1992. These claims, too, were thoroughly investigated at the time and dismissed, but …

The Uncertain Boundaries of Corporate Morality

A deeply unusual public spectacle has been playing out in Australia for a number of weeks involving a prominent rugby player, a mangled bible verse, the rugby player’s wife, a crowdfunding platform, a major bank and a health insurance fund. All the elements of a terrible joke are present, yet the core of the matter—the messy intersection of legal freedom and corporate morality—is proving to be serious. Rugby player Israel Folau, domestic and international superstar, allegedly breached his contract with Rugby Australia by posting an adaptation of a bible verse to Instagram which suggested unrepentant homosexuals would ultimately find themselves in hell, alongside liars, adulterers, persons with tattoos, and a variety of other sinners. As a consequence of his refusal to remove the post, Folau’s lucrative contract with Rugby Australia was terminated. The legality of this decision has yet to be decided in court. The case has attracted immense interest and is already being touted as a potential landmark for freedom of religion and religious expression in the domain of Australian employment law and—to a …

A Victory for Female Athletes Everywhere

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) this week upheld the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) regulations governing eligibility for the women’s category in international elite athletics competition. In effect, CAS decided the question “who is a woman” for purposes of elite sport. And it ratified the IAAF’s preferred answer: A woman in sport is anyone whose legal identity is female—whether they personally identify as such or not—and who has testosterone (T) levels in the female range. That may seem like a mere technical ruling. But as I’ll explain in this article, the ramifications are profound for female athletics everywhere—a cause that has been central to my life and to the lives of millions of girls and women worldwide. The female range for testosterone is categorically different from the male range. In general, males have 10 to 30 times more T than females. Most females, including most elite female athletes, have T levels in the range of 0.5 to 1.5 nanomoles per liter (nmol/L). For men, typical values are 10 to 35 nmol/L. The …