Just exactly what did Sorenstam do for women when she successfully argued she should be allowed to compete in a PGA event? She shot four over par and missed the cut in her first round. How did it help women, or the LPGA, when she proved she would be a middle of the pack golfer if she were a man?
Vonn argues including her would create more interest in the sport in America. But what would the interest be? Would it be the kind of circus-like curiosity that accompanies oddities or aberrations? Or would it be real, meaningful fandom for a sport that deserves attention and support?
I cringe when I hear the world's best female athletes complain about needing the chance to compete against men. It immediately elicits comparisons between men's and women's versions of the same games.
Women should have their own leagues because they have not been allowed to compete in physical competitions for centuries like men have. We are genetically different, but we derive the same challenges, the same benefits, the same satisfaction from athletic competition.
The women's basketball game is different from men's basketball but it is no less difficult and entertaining. Women volleyball players compete with a lower net than men but are equally entertaining in their athletic battles.
I have heard arguments over the years that girls and boys should compete together so that women develop the same skills and mental competitiveness that men have. Proponents argue that separating the genders relegates women to second-class leagues.
I believe the vast majority of women would be unable to play high school, college or professional sports if they were forced to compete with men for spots on a team. Maybe the rare Vonn or Sorenstam would make a team, and they might even be contenders, stars or champions.
But the majority of us would be where we were before Title IX kicked down doors previously closed — on the outside looking in. We would be left wondering what it might be like to be in the game rather than admiring the athletic accomplishments of others.
Rather than fight for inclusion in men's races, I hope Vonn decides to use her unique superstar status to raise up and help other women.
If she's intent on testing her skills against her male counterparts, she could help organize a special co-ed competition that would raise money for charity. She could use her profile, her knowledge and her abilities to raise the skill level of other female athletes. Just her accomplishments increase the profile of her sport.
In expressing gratitude for her talent and the opportunities afforded her, she sends a bigger more important message that women's accomplishments are as impressive, as valuable and as noteworthy as that of any man.
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