Who needs protection from football?

Recently Ben Ferguson was explaining on his radio show why it’s important, and not sexist at all, to have rules that prevent women from playing football with men once they reach High School.

Let me start by saying that Ben Ferguson is pretty decent, as conservative talk show hosts go. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that I don’t mind him as much as the others. Sometimes he can get a little crazy, but on many issues he is very rational. On some issues, he sounds almost liberal. For example, in a local Texas case where a court barred a Christian Student group from displaying a banner praising Jesus on the field before student football games, Ben Ferguson sided with the courts. He even explained why the “Jesus” banner was inappropriate, in a way that would resonate with a conservative audience: “You want there to be separation of church and state, because you wouldn’t want to have some Islamic student group with a sign saying ‘praise Allah’ on the field, would you?” This kind of logic, as screwed up as it is in some ways, at least makes him a cut above most of the conservative radio hosts that are out there.

More recently, he was talking about guys and girls playing together on the same field in High School football games. As usual, he was trying to put his argument in the context of a real and rational thought-out argument.

His argument went something like this. All children, both boys and girls, should be encouraged to play all sports when they are young, and may even play together. However, once they reach High School, the guys start getting much stronger and bigger. The physical difference between guys and girls becomes much more dramatic than it is with younger kids. This isn’t about insulting women or being sexist. But the fact is that, biologically, women tend to be weaker and smaller than men. When men and women play on the field together, it’s just more dangerous for women. The rule should be there to protect them.

To me, as a liberal, there is an immediate and obvious response to this. It is best explained in the form of a simple question:

Why, then, is there no rule to separate the 120 pound men from the 220 pound men?

There are 120 pound men out there. They could also get crushed and severely hurt out on a football field. If we need an explicit rule to prevent women from playing with men for their own good, then why don’t we need an explicit rule to prevent the 120 pound men from playing with the 220 pound men for their own good?

The answer, of course, is that everyone assumes that the people who are involved in the student’s life have common sense. Nobody thinks that there needs to be a rule to exclude a 120 pound guy who can’t handle himself on the field, because everyone assumes that either the kid’s parents, or the football coach, or even the kid himself will understand that playing on that field may just be out of his league. Everyone assumes that if the kid can’t handle playing on the field, then he will “opt out”.

Conversely, everyone assumes that if the guy feels confident enough to do it, and he plays well enough for the coach to want him, and his parents are comfortable with it, then he must have enough skill to warrant being out on that field. He deserves it, and should be allowed to play.

It’s true that on average women weigh less and are less powerful than guys; however, it is not true that every woman is lighter and less powerful than every guy. In fact, there is a lot of overlap between men  and women. Maybe there is even more overlap than some conservative guys want to think. If your argument is really just about strength and size, the it just doesn’t make sense to have a rule against women but not have a rule against 120 pound men.

If your argument is really based on strength and size, and if you really think that there needs to be some kind of “rule” to protect certain people from playing football, then the rule should be based on strength and size. To base the rule on anything else is just laziness.



Finally, Ben Ferguson did try another angle on why men and women should be separated in football, but it backfired when a listener called in with some actual facts.

His other argument was that if men and women play on the same teams, the guys will hold back with the women players, and not play as aggressively or as hard. He said that he expects that, due to respect for women and fear of hurting the “weaker sex”, the men would limit their game.

Then a caller who was a football coach in a High School where they actually did have guys and girls playing together called in. He specifically addressed this argument, and although I can’t remember what he said word-for-word, his point was essentially this:

We have girls who play on our teams. They are tough players. The girls don’t hold back. And I’ll tell you, the guys might hold back at first…. but after a guy’s been hit full force by a girl player few times, that goes away. That goes away quick. Once the guys learn that the girls are good players, and they learn to respect their game, all of that pussy-footing goes away. Nobody holds back anything.

Isn’t it wonderful when actual real-world facts butt up against the conservative “I expect”?