Today is the 50th anniversary of Title IX. In the last 50 years, we’ve seen women enjoy countless opportunities thanks to the doors opened up by a simple sentence prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs. But today, those opportunities are under attack. 

I’m a primary care sports medicine physician and a former collegiate athlete. I have treated athletes at all levels of competition. I wasn’t going to add my two cents. But things never change when we remain silent. I will start off by saying I support everyone’s pursuit of happiness. I wish everyone would find what makes them happy and be brave enough to make it happen, so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else (like don’t find your happiness being a serial killer). The world needs more happy. And if you don’t like how someone chooses to live their happy life, that’s a “you” problem. But when a male has gone through puberty, and has years of testosterone-induced muscle and bone building, they will always have a physical advantage over females.  

Testosterone doesn’t just affect bone and muscle, also increases lung function and improves blood flow to the heart, thus increasing exercise capacity. It is undisputed science. At my peak physical condition as a softball pitcher in college, I could bench press 165 lbs. Right now, my 14 year old twin boys bench press 150 lbs effortlessly. Testosterone is a banned substance in NCAA and professional competition because of the undeniable advantage it confers. To earn a place on a college level team takes countless hours of sacrifice, early mornings, late nights, missing important events and pushing yourself beyond what you thought you were physically capable of. The vast majority of us will never know how much work goes into earning a chance to compete in a national championship. 

For female athletes to get to that point, the pinnacle of their careers, knowing they have one opportunity to reach everything they sacrificed for, but knowing they have one more huge obstacle in their way that they physically are not likely to overcome, is a slap in the face. And in the Larry Nassar era, asking female athletes, many of whom may have been mistreated at some point throughout their careers, to change in a room with a person who still has male reproductive organs, is absolutely inappropriate. In an effort to make one person feel included, I wonder how many cisgender females are made to feel uncomfortable? 

If you know any high level athletes, you know how hard elite levels of competition can be on their mental health. I also wonder how many female athletes that spent their lives preparing for moments like the NCAA swimming championships, only to be overshadowed by a physical male, are struggling mentally? We just saw national headlines about a college soccer player committing suicide. Mental health is health. To ask female athletes to suck it up and be put in this type of situation is not ok. If a biological female were to transition to male and start testosterone, he would be disqualified from female competitions.

I don’t have a daughter. But I have a pretty amazing niece who is an outstanding athlete. And I want to see her play at the next level and have a fair shot at achieving her dreams. I want that for all of my patients. There needs to be a discussion about how to level the playing field. Yes, transgender athletes should absolutely be allowed to compete in athletics, but we need to implement a better system. 

We need to protect women’s sports otherwise the countless opportunities, on and off the field, that Title IX has enabled will be wiped out. We can support individuals pursuing happiness without sacrificing women’s health, safety, and opportunities. Fair play is a principle present in all sports. But if we don’t keep women’s sports female, there will be no fairness to protect anymore.