Gender testing in sports: outdated?

A recent article on mentions the rather interesting and bizarre story of Caster Semenya, who won the 800-meter race in the IAAF World Championships about a week ago now. The bizarre twist is that Caster was forced to run despite strong controversy about her gender, or specifically, that she “may not be entirely female” as an article in the newspaper The Age says it.

This quote from Caster’s coach, Michael Seme, while at first appearing to be rather defensive of her, really only serves to add to the humiliation:

We understand that people will ask questions because she looks like a man. It’s a natural reaction and it’s only human to be curious. People probably have the right to ask such questions if they are in doubt. But I can give you the telephone numbers of her roommates in Berlin. They have already seen her naked in the showers and she has nothing to hide.

I can only hope and pray that quote was intended to be tongue-in-cheek. Even if it was, it is still very close to the boundary line of tasteless territory, if not over it.

It’s not just track and field. All throughout women’s sports, it seems like the fashionable thing to do is characterize the best in sport as too “tomboyish” or “mannish” as a derogatory term. And it is derogatory, every bit out of bounds as calling inferior male athletes things like “girly” or even derogatory terms which imply homosexuality, that I will not repeat here.

I think the worst examples are the things I have heard about the WNBA, most notably that most would-be WNBA spectators feel uncomfortable sharing the stands with what they suspect to be homosexual women (when I had the conversations with various people who brought this up, invariably, some very derogatory and unflattering words were used).

Further down we get to the story of Spanish hurdler Maria José Martínez-Patiño, who was stripped of a first-place title when discovered to have XY chromosomes, instead of the expected female XX chromosomes. The effects on Maria were devestating.

While as a practical matter some hard lines do have to be drawn, I think it may be time we as a society reconsider and reframe how we consider gender, particularly that there are multiple aspects of gender identity, many of which may not neatly fit into the two boxes of “male” and “female” we’re used to.

Quoting the article again:

While we are never encouraged to conceive of bodies this way, male and female bodies are more similar than they are distinguishable from each other. When training and nutrition are equal, it is increasingly difficult to tell the difference between some of the best-trained male and female Olympic swimmers wearing state-of-the-art one-piece speed suits.

Indeed, dare I say it, this is what it should be about: training, conditioning, nutrition, practice, and effort, not gender.

Most of the men’s swimming records are still significantly faster than the corresponding women’s records (source: Wikipedia article “List of world records in swimming”) but I suspect over time this will change to the point that one day we’ll see a women’s record faster than the corresponding men’s record. A bold prediction? Yes. But not outside the realm of possibility.

But until it’s obvious having two record books is silly, let’s not reward the winners with an attack on their gender, which is in turn an attack on their identity and dignity. We owe our fellow members of the human race at least that small amount of decency.

Michael Jackson, homicide victim

Perhaps the most shocking news to hit the world in recent days, and I know I’m a bit late on this one as well. But better late than never, I say.

MSNBC reports that the death of world-famous pop singer Michael Jackson has been ruled a homicide. While it does not necessarily imply that a crime has in fact been committed, it’s certainly not good news for Dr. Conrad Murray, the Las Vegas cardiologist who became Jackson’s personal physician.

From what I can gather, the story appears to imply that Jackson likely died from interactions between the multiple medications given to him, sometimes called the “multiplier effect.” Quote from the article:

That combination [of 25mg propofol and small amounts of lorazepram and midazolam] succeeded in helping Jackson sleep two days prior to his death, so the next day, Murray told detectives he cut off the propofol — and Jackson fell asleep with just the two sedatives.

Then around 1:30 a.m. on June 25, starting with a 10-milligram tab of Valium, Murray said he tried a series of drugs instead of propofol to make Jackson sleep. The injections included two milligrams of lorazepam around 2 a.m., two milligrams of midazolam around 3 a.m., and repeats of each at 5 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. respectively.

But they didn’t work.

Murray told detectives that around 10:40 a.m. he gave in to Jackson’s “repeated demands/requests” for propofol, which the singer referred to as his “milk.” He administered 25 milligrams of the white-colored liquid, — a relatively small dose — and finally, Jackson fell asleep.

Murray remained with the sedated Jackson for about 10 minutes, then left for the bathroom. No more than two minutes later, he returned — and found Jackson had stopped breathing.

It appears as though Dr. Murray was negligent at the least, forgetting that some amounts of all the other drugs were probably still in Jackson’s system. I’m no pharmacist or doctor, but I would certainly not try to add even a half-dose of propofol (which is described as primarily being used in hospitals elsewhere in the article) on top of three other similar drugs.

It is of course possible (I personally consider it unlikely, but still possible) Dr. Murray won’t be found criminally liable. However, if he is not, I’ll be horrified if Dr. Murray doesn’t at least lose his license to practice medicine, and the inevitable wrongful death suit from the Jackson family.