Women, Contact Sports, and the Mix of the Two in a Gender-Confused Age

In response to my blog from Thursday on the New York Times piece covering the extreme risks many girls face in playing high-contact sports, I drew some strong responses, and wanted to comment on them in today’s post.

Let me first encourage you to check out the article by Michael Sokolove that appeared in this past weekend’s NYT magazine. In addition, surf the comments related to the article. There are now 285 (as of this posting), so this piece, “The Uneven Playing Field”, has clearly touched on a hot-button cultural issue of critical importance. The paper is to be commended for publishing a piece this controversial precisely because its central assertion works so strenuously and compellingly against gender-neutral myths.

I won’t rehash much from Thursday’s blog, but I will give you one snapshot quotation that sums up the general drift of Sokolove’s writing:

“If girls and young women ruptured their A.C.L.’s at just twice the rate of boys and young men, it would be notable. Three times the rate would be astounding. But some researchers believe that in sports that both sexes play, and with similar rules — soccer, basketball, volleyball — female athletes rupture their A.C.L.’s at rates as high as five times that of males.”

This is clearly a situation of grave importance to those who have athletically minded daughters and, beyond this, to those who are raising daughters in an age of supposed physical parity between the sexes. When Gatorade, for example, tells viewers that Michael Jordan and Mia Hamm are athletically and physically of equal gifting, strength, and agility, it is no surprise that the culture at large would begin to accept this notion and put it into practice in the form of their own familial decisions. This mindset has led many parents in our era to plunge their daughters headlong into high-contact sports, oblivious to the dangers (the word is carefully chosen) their daughters face from this decision.

This is not to say, though, that girls are weak, or that every girl will get injured. Sometimes people read the former statement into the biblical principle that women are to be treated as the weaker vessel. Nowhere did I say that women are weak. I noted instead that compared to men, women are weaker in a physical sense. There are of course exceptions to this principle; one can find weak men and very strong women. But these exceptions do not overturn the principle that men are generally stronger than women. I should say that in my life, I have been surrounded by women of considerable agency and ability. My mother was and is a dynamo, always working, always redeeming the time, even when relaxing. She couldn’t even watch a television show without knitting! My own wife is in the same mold. She is a very capable woman, and I married her in part because I saw biblical industry and agency in her. She never ceases to amaze me in what she accomplishes around our home. Though she is a good deal less strong than me, I would not characterize her as weak, and I am continually stunned by what she accomplishes. I should not be read to be saying, then, that women are weak. That is an uncharitable and inaccurate reading, one that I cannot affirm based on the Word and my own life experience.

Neither will every girl who competes in a high-contact sport get injured. There are probably many girls who compete in a contact sport who, for a variety of reasons, evade injury. As the NYT article shows, there are also exercises that women can perform that lower the risk of serious injury. With this caution noted, though, we return to the above research finding. Some who study women’s athletics very closely think that women tear their ACL’s at five times the rate that men do. This statistic–and others–must be reckoned with. The personal angle of the magazine piece add a dreadful personal dimension to this statistic. Girls–and they are girls–playing with two blown knees, all for the “love of the game”. This is a horrific reality.

Our sports-obsessed, gender-neutral society exhorts many girls to do nothing less than to sacrifice their bodies for games. No one will remember these contests in the years to come. The women who go on to the activities and responsibilities of adulthood will find that their athletic experience, however large it loomed in their teenage minds, suddenly has precious little importance compared to the duties of the family, the home, and for those who feel compelled to enter it, the workforce. Think of the reality of childbearing and raising. These are tremendously engrossing callings, challenging for the most physically strong and capable woman. They will be many times more challenging, however, with a blown knee and the other results of a career–that’s what it is, a career–in youth sports. In women’s sports, and in some that boys play, namely, football, the parents of our country are allowing or even leading their children to a path of physical disability and even destruction. This is not simply sad–it is sick.

As Christians, we need to seriously question the sports culture. We need to make sure that if our boys play sports that we watch their hearts and their bodies very carefully to make sure that they are not idolizing athletics and, in doing so, causing great harm to their bodies. There is nothing smart or biblical or romantic in a boy suffering considerable physical damage in youth sports, no matter what the sports legends or the television shows or the Nike commercials tell us. We need to make sure that if our girls play sports that they avoid the dangerous idea that they need to do what boys do. In some cases, they cannot, and to try to do so will be to bring lasting harm to themselves. We should steer them away from sports that threaten to compromise their bodies and their femininity. Unlike modern culture, the Bible celebrates a dignified, distinct womanhood that is quite different from many masculine qualities. In our homes and our churches, we must work to celebrate this femininity, to embrace it, and to train our daughters that it is absolutely beautiful and biblically right for a woman to be just that: a woman, distinct from a man.

To summarize, then, we must stop buying into the myths that the feminist-influenced society feeds us as Christians. Women and men are different. They have been given different gifts and bodies. A woman’s body is not less muscled and differently shaped from a man’s by accident; God did not make men and women with the exact same physical capabilities but with different shapes, as if He simply got aesthetically creative with the bodies of Adam and Eve. He made men to be strong because he wanted them to be those who led, protected, and provided for women and children. He made women to be able to nurture children not simply in a figurative sense through their instincts, but in a literal sense, through hips that can stand childbirth and breasts that can feed children. To speak frankly, though a husband justly delights in it, this part of a woman’s body was not made for fashion, for the fetishes of unmarried men or the interest of boys, but for function, despite what our sex-obsessed, female-fixated culture says by way of advertising and entertainment. If a man’s body is attuned to the tasks of provision and protection, a woman’s is geared for physical nurturing. We do not have to derive our understanding of gender roles by some mystical divination of the Creator’s will, but through the plain testimony of Scripture and, indeed, the anatomical realities in which we find ourselves.

This sounds to postmodern ears like caveman talk. The funny part is, it’s actually older than that. The roles of men and women proceed from the mind of God, who made men and women to carry out fundamentally different roles through fundamentally different physical realities. This is not to say that there is never overlap between the duties of the sexes; there often is. Yet as men live at home with their parents, and treat women well only for the purpose of seducing them, and leave them to fight their wars, and do substantive work, and assume positions of leadership due to a shortage of available (and capable) men, a suspicion might just creep its way into their minds. As fathers watch their daughters brutalize their bodies in order that these dads might live out their athletic dreams through them, a thought may come quietly to mind. As another girl falls in agony on the soccer field, or the basketball court, as a researcher crunches statistic after frightening statistic, a realization dawns. Perhaps the gender-neutral experiment is flawed. Perhaps our whole program is awry. Maybe, just maybe, in seeking our daughter’s “liberation”, we are watching nothing less than their downfall, right before our eyes, with our permission, under our watch.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for your further explanation of this topic. And I agree that it is OBVIOUS that men and women are different and that men in general (as you say) are stronger than women. I agree with much of what you say a/b the sports culture being idolized and everyone parent/child/male/female wants to take a bite of that apple regardless of the risks. People are glory hogs–it’s why we were kicked out of the garden.

    And although you didn’t explicitly say women are weaker(even though it’s true in the general sense), you did use 1Pet 3:7 to support your opinion that women should not play sports.

    The reasoning you used for women not playing sports is that they will get injured (ie: NYT article). It’s not so much the women not playing sports i’m disagreeing with. It’s using the fact that they may get injured as a basis for not playing sports.

    I think you have to be very careful when you say “dont do this b/c you will hurt yourself”–especially to women only–and you did qualify that men should be careful as well. I think it is a good reason not to do something, but you have to be careful.

    This reasoning is tricky b/c there are biblically supported works that can cause serious bodily injury. For example, childbirth is BY FAR more injurious to women than playing sports. Even though we were made to bear children, many people DIED and still die in the process. In fact, this very reasoning is used to justify women having abortions. Further, what about men going into the military–if they are at risk of incurring bodily injury or death, then should they not serve? They can’t provide for the home if they are dead. We are called to follow Christ even in the face of death. And let’s not forget the bodily injury Christ incurred on our behalf.

    I think there is Christian freedom in playing sports, joining the military, even putting yourself at risk in some other way; but as always, one should examine their motives. We are not called to suffer for the sake of suffering. We are also to be good stewards of what God has given us and do everything unto Him and for His Glory.

    About feminism and the “home” etc:
    I want to pose a concern regarding the rise of feminism/gender neutrality and the Christian response. And I blame you for opening up this can of worms—j/k! Of course, feminism (in the since that it emasculates the men and wants to take over) is sinful and a result of the fall. It seems to me that the Christian community in an effort to counter feminism is overemphasizing what women can/can’t/should/shouldn’t do and underemphasizing these restrictions for men–especially when it involves the home. Both roles are of equal importance in the home. Maybe the focus should be:
    THE HOME
    (male and female responsibilities) vs
    MALE and FEMALE(the home)? An honest question.

    Let us not forget that the home is also the man’s place (in one sense) as he is going to be held accountable for what happens there. And I’d like to point out in light of the disintegration of the nuclear family, i am wondering where are all the responsible parties? (B/c this is ultimately the man’s responsibility)…not to say that women didn’t contribute……..

    We must not ignore that part of this rise of feminism/gender neutrality is a backlash against a long history of men abusing their “strongness” with women. It is an effort (albeit sinfully guided) of society to protect women and flesh out the fact that they are equal in value. This rise of feminism is, I think, partially a direct result in a deficiency in biblical masculinity—a deficiency of men who lead as Christ led, not Napolean or Adam. I think it is important to remember that it is likely that many of these feminists in the church and in the world have been abused by such men (some even professing christians). Men cannot ignore their responsibility in this rise of feminism. However, that doesn’t justify a sinful response on the part of the women.

    Men in the home demanding their way, NOT b/c they are so concerned a/b the home as much as they are concerned about THEIR reputation in the home. Boys being favored and treated as more valuable to society/home/family than women. This leaves women (who are already vulnerable) feeling threatened mentally, physically, and/or emotionally. What’s worse is when the bible is used to support their sinful behavior. Consequently, there has been an overt fight or flight response to men and even the bible–in which modern feminism encompasses both. They are right in wanting women to be equally valued and have equal opportunities (ie: college,voting), but wrong in thinking there are no meaningful differences between men and women.

    When men use their roles sinfully, it tempts women to respond sinfully- and perhaps vice versa–HOWEVER NO ONE is justified in their sinful response. Am I right in saying that b/c the man is stronger, he is ultimately responsible for perpetuating the woman to respond sinfully (in the context of marriage)? Maybe not, just an honest question? WOmen are accountable for their sin too…..

    To me, when I hear,” women should stay at home and cook and clean and have babies, look pretty, don’t go to college,” it begs the question, well what are the men doing? Is it we stay home and the men get to go out and play (sports) and take advantage of all society has to offer? That’s what it starts sounding like.

    If women are to cook and clean and sow, then men should be doing carpentry and plumbing and hunting. It sounds archaic b/c it is-there are more modern ways to live out these biblical gender roles-which i won’t fully explore here. Technology has made some of these home/ec skills obslete. IE: sowing: the patterns are expensive, the material is expensive, the equipment is expensive and it is time consuming. You’d be better off going to target.) I’d also like to say that cleaning is everyone’s responsibility-there’s no reason you can’t take 2 seconds and throw your laundry in the hamper, wipe up your toothpaste dribble etc. Even Jesus washed his disciple’s feet.

    The point i want it make is that BOTH married men and women should be spending their lives for the good of the home. The home is the man’s place as well since he is going to be held responsible for what happens there. I suppose how each couple fleshes that out may look different. Providing: does that necessarily mean financially? Definitely spiritually…..anyway, I think there is christian freedom in this. Personally, I don’t want to be the bread winner, but some women have very well paying jobs…..as long as their main priority is the Lord, their spouse and the home……

    Like I said, I think the Christian community overemphasizes the women’s role in the home and underemphasizes the man’s. With a history of male oppression, you have to be mindful about saying things that underemphasize the man’s role in the home b/c it can seem like the goal is to subdue women like you would a slave(prevent them from leaving the home, getting educated/informed etc). I imagine that this approach could hinder our efforts to win over the world’s feminists to the gospel.

    I would like to remind men and women that Christ submitted to God, but it didn’t make him lesser than God.


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