I’m not a football fan, not by any means. At the risk of being forced into a real football conversation, I won’t go into my reasons, because football fans won’t agree and I simply don’t care enough.
My husband, on the other hand, is a diehard fan. He watches his team (Da Bears) every Sunday. Or Monday. Or Thursday, depending. And then watches all the other teams on all the other games on all the other days. And watches pre show and post show coverage. As well as follows most color analysts on Twitter. And ESPN. And on any relevant blogs.
So I always assumed that our sons would play football.
Except being trans can complicate things.
I mean, big things. Like if they’re even allowed to play sports. Or what team they should play for. Or what locker room they should use.
So what if my trans son did want to play professional football? Would he be allowed? To be honest, my son shows very little interest in sports in general, but he might change his mind one day.
At the Elementary to Middle School level, it’s a no-brainer. He’d play for the gender he identifies as. Youth sports don’t have changing rooms or showers or big bad associations breathing down your neck. He looks like every other child his age, which is to say, like a child, and he’s completely hormone free.
It’s as he enters High School and College when things start to change.
I mean, big things. Like musculature and height. Voices, body hair. And of course, hormones.
As a trans person, if he wants to go through male puberty, he will have to take testosterone, a performance enhancing drug. A drug banned by every amateur and professional athletic association in the world.
Of course, few people in the sports world give two thoughts to any body with a uterus, on or off testosterone.
It’s the trans women they’re concerned with. Or more accurately, the throngs of men not skilled enough to play for the men’s teams, that they imagine would suddenly pretend to be a woman to join the women’s team and dominate.
They call it competitive equity. I call it perpetuating the gender stereotype that anyone with a penis is physically stronger and more capable than anyone without. But I digress.
The law isn’t clear and it comes down to each individual district and how they handle it. Title IX, an Education Act from 1972, helps ensure that they could be forced to comply, but not necessarily willingly. And most parents of trans students aren’t willing to make it public, for any variety of reasons.
In April of 2010, the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) Office of Inclusion made a bold move. They released a 38 page Handbook titled NCAA Inclusion of Transgender Student-Athletes, which included the answers to all of the great questions. Like were gonad bearing bodies more athletic than ovoid bearing bodies? Of course not in every case. Would trans women have an advantage over cis women, by virtue of their genitalia? Not likely and especially not if on hormone replacement therapies. Would throngs of unskilled men sneak onto women’s teams to dominate the sports? There’s no guarantee that they would dominate, if they did try, but it’s incredibly unlikely that any would even try.
And then the NCAA made it policy that any trans student on HRT, could join the team of the gender they identified as.
So my son could, potentially, play men’s football in college, if he took Testosterone.
And in November of 2015, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) went ahead and said that my son (and any other trans man) could, without restriction, participate in any male category in the Olympics. I have no idea if they have American Football in the Olympics, but I think that’s great! For a trans woman, however, there’s quite a few more hurdles to jump, including declaring her gender as female for at least four years and a suppressed testosterone level for 12 months prior to participation and throughout the period of eligibility.
So where does that leave the NFL? Could my trans son play professional football?
The NFL, like most professional sports, has been a bit behind the times, when it comes to the LGBT community. Though I wasn’t able to find any specific indication in their rulebooks on whether or not a trans person would be allowed to play, my husband assured me that the NFL had no rules about gender.
But they do have bans on performance enhancing drugs.
I mean, big ones. There are 192 performance enhancing substances on their List of Prohibited Substances. They test 40 random players every week of regular season and 5 random players every week during playoffs. The NFL is serious about their bans.
But according to their 2015 Policy and Program on Substances of Abuse, in players that did not produce enough or any testosterone, usually due to a medical condition, they were granted a Therapeutic Use Exemption. I’ll admit, it might be a loophole, but if my son wanted to one day aim for a professional football career, by golly, I’d help him slip right through.
Proudly, I brought my hard work and research to my husband. I imagined him throwing the pigskin around with my boys in the yard. I imagined sipping hot mugs of coffee on a cold icy field on an early Sunday morning, cheering them on until my voice was hoarse as I wildly waved my brightly colored pom-poms. I even wondered briefly what the parent box at the Super Bowl might look like, and how my husband would weep with joy to watch both of our sons (naturally playing for the same professional team) make the winning touchdown of the game.
“There is no way in hell any son of mine is ever playing football.”
Not even if that’s all they wanted to do in life?
“I don’t care, absolutely not.”
And if they snuck around behind your back and did it anyway?
“I’d lock them in their rooms and never let them out again.”
Wow, harsh, right? Here was a man who embraced his trans son with open arms. Here was a man that had declared, without any hesitation, that no matter what path his sons chose, he would love and support them every step of the way.
Unless that path lead one of his sons to take the field on Football Sunday.
Except he had his reasons.
I mean, valid ones. Upwards of 3.8 million concussions happen at the high school level, with football accounting for 47% of them. In 2012, according to CNN the NFL diagnosed 261 concussions during the season.
And lately, it’s coming to light that repeated head traumas like concussions are associated with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease of the brain. A disease that causes depression, aggression and disorientation.
Maybe you still think he’s being ridiculous.
Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend before killing himself. Justin Strzelczyk died in a car crash in 2004, after a 40 mile police pursuit in what was clearly a death wish. Chris Henry died at age 26, after a fight with his fiancé that led to him falling from the back of a moving pickup truck. Terry Long, Andre Waters, Junior Seau, and Ryan Freel all committed suicide. All were suspected or confirmed cases of CTE in pathological reports.
Not to mention the countless professional athletes who suffered from dementia, years and decades before they should, and from depression.
I can’t very well argue with that kind of logic.
The NFL, IOC, and NCAA all might let my son play football one day, but my husband never would.
Can’t say I’m terribly disappointed about packing up my pom-poms.
Don't miss my video on Listen to Your Mother where I share my story of Jake's transition.
I'd love to hear your story. Please email me at email@example.com if you want to share.
If you like what you've read, don't be shy about hitting the Share button and following me on Facebook at Affirmed Mom or follow me on Twitter @affirmedmom.
Type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. Don't forget to wait for the confirmation email. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.
Tags: children, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, CTE, gender, HRT, International Olympics Committee, IOC, lgbt, National Collegiate Athletic Association, National Football League, NCAA, NFL, Parenting, performance enhancing drugs, Super Bowl, Testosterone, trans, transgender issues, transgender rights