I’m a lifelong competitive athlete and a mom: Transgender athletes aren’t a threat to women’s sports

I can still feel the rough spots of asphalt underneath me, balanced on one knee, fingertips on the ground.  I remained as still as possible, razor focused, ready to sprint.  I was at the net, my gaze set on that white band at the top, not daring to look to my left as one of the world’s most celebrated tennis players, Chris Evert, served an ace.   

It was the mid 1970s. I was eight years old and had been playing tennis half my life.

I am a woman who grew up in the world of sports. State ranked in Georgia by the age of 10, I was invited with my sister Melanie, also state ranked, to staff tournaments for the world’s best tennis players at the Alexander Memorial Coliseum (now McCamish Pavilion) on Georgia Tech’s campus in Atlanta.

Fast forward 30 years and I found running. In my life, there is no sport that fills me with such hope, clarity, with the sense that anything is possible, as the sport of running.

Jennifer Grosshandler ran the 2014 Boston Marathon. (Photo: Jennifer Grosshandler)

The rush is so powerful, so healing, that it propelled me to two Boston Marathon finishes and multiple age group awards in the sport of triathlon.  

Inspiration for The GenderCool Project

Women’s sports has defined my life in the deepest, most profound ways. It has allowed me to thrive personally and professionally in ways I could never have imagined.

Folks will be hard pressed to find someone more vigorously supportive of women’s sports than me.  

As the mother of four, I have done everything I can to model for our three sons and our youngest, our daughter Chazzie, that finding their own connection to athletics can be one of the greatest joys in their lives.

Chazzie is 15 and proud to be transgender. She is fueled by her passion to volunteer, works hard in school, was the inspiration for The GenderCool Project, and is “open” to exercising with me.   

The Grosshandler family in 2019, with Sadie the dog. Back (l-r), Max and Jess. Front (l-r), John, Chazzie, Lev, Jen. (Photo: Jennifer Grosshandler)

The truth is, sports is not her thing. It’s all I can do to get her to take a walk with me. To her credit, she’s the first to say she loves the way an awesome walk makes her feel.

It’s all a work in progress.   

Like so many teenagers, Chazzie is thrilled to be back in person at her high school. Next year, she plans to participate in a program called Charity Drive. Each year her high school raises significant money for those in need in our community, including pediatric cancer patients, our beloved veterans and military families. The high school sports teams are often the ones that raise the largest portion of this money. Chazzie wants to join the girl’s volleyball team, in part, so she can participate in Charity Drive and raise money for those in need. She has no experience playing volleyball, and that’s OK. My husband John and I are proud of her for trying something that will teach her teamwork and perseverance, while allowing her to give back. 

All kids need to move. And all kids need to feel that they belong.  

America Talks: Come #ListenFirst in a conversation to bridge political divides

A lawsuit limiting the participation of transgender girls in high school sports, orchestrated by a group that does not believe in equal rights for all people, has now been dismissed in federal district court. 

And yet, it has spurred a series of bad bills based on fiction in select states across the country. These bills seek to dry up an entire ocean for kids who simply want a few drops of water. In my years of advocating for inclusivity, I have found the overwhelming majority of transgender and non-binary kiddos just aren’t that interested in the competitive side of athletics. And the tiny percentage who are, are not the fastest fish in the sea. They are not the strongest, the most agile, the most competitive. On the contrary, it’s a running joke among so many of our families that whoever finds the secret to getting our kids to move will have a building named after them! 

Transgender athletes aren’t a threat 

Here’s another truth: there are common-sense guidelines within most athletic organizations on the high school, collegiate and professional level. 

Policies developed by medical experts have been in place at the NCAA and Olympic levels for years now allowing transgender athletes to compete, and yet we have never seen a transgender woman in the Olympics, or any kind of domination of women’s sports by transgender athletes. We also know that in some states with inclusive policies, participation rates for girls in high school sports are stronger.

I’ve seen all sorts of terrible things happening within women’s sports including unequal pay, sexual abuse and harassment. 

Transgender girls and women are not and never will be a challenge to women’s sports.

Jennifer Grosshandler and Gary Kirshenbaum after a 2013 half marathon. (Photo: Jennifer Grosshandler)

In 2018 Boston Marathon winner, Desiree Linden, stopped and waited as her friend and fellow elite women’s runner Shalane Flanagan took a quick break during the race. That one moment, that stunning example of women racers at the highest level, being there for each other, even as they competed against each other, said everything about what is real and true and beautiful about women’s sports. 

Women’s sports is as much about lifting each other up as it is about winning. Our values, our fundamental beliefs, even as competitors, should be grounded in celebrating all who simply want to belong. 

Jennifer Grosshandler, she/her, is founder of The GenderCool Project.

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