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Canadian cyclist Rachel McKinnon (left) prepares to race in the 2019 UCI Track Cycling World Masters Championship, October 19. (OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

Sports

Muscling in

No matter the activists’ spin, biological males maintain unfair advantages when competing against women

Activists appear to have two approaches to controlling the narrative concerning transgender athletes’ successes in women’s sports: Attack the critics, or keep things hush-hush.

Neither has proven particularly effective at quelling a controversy that needn’t exist, isn’t going away, and really has only one solution.

Rachel (formerly Rhys) McKinnon went on the offensive after defending his 200-meter sprint title in the women’s 35-39 age group at the Masters Track Cycling Championships in Manchester, England, in late October. After setting a world record during qualifying, McKinnon won the race for the second straight year—by four-tenths of a second, or roughly 15 meters in a race typically decided by centimeters.

In the wake of victory, McKinnon blasted those who decry the unfairness of biological males defeating women: “I have yet to meet a real champion who wants trans women banned,” the 37-year-old Canadian said. “If you win because bigotry got your competition banned … you’re a loser.”

Meanwhile, publicity handlers tried—in vain—to keep June (formerly Jonathan) Eastwood’s transgender status quiet after the Big Sky Conference named the University of Montana cross-country runner its Female Athlete of the Week in late October. Eastwood received the honor after placing second in the women’s race at Santa Clara University’s Bronco Invitational in Sunnyvale, Calif.

In touting Eastwood’s accolade, both the Big Sky and Montana websites failed to mention that Eastwood had competed as a male—with moderate success—as recently as last year. Eastwood’s bio on the Montana women’s cross-country website omits the senior’s prior running experience entirely.

Something similar happened with CeCe (formerly Craig) Telfer of New Hampshire’s Franklin Pierce University after he won the NCAA Division II title in the women’s 400-meter hurdles last spring. And yet, Eastwood’s transgender status, like Telfer’s, still surfaced—not least because The Missoulian, the newspaper that covers Montana athletics in the university’s home city of Missoula, ran a preseason profile hailing Eastwood’s history-making turn as the NCAA’s first openly transgender cross-country runner.

While Union Cycliste Internationale, cycling’s international governing body, has a testosterone threshold that biological males cannot exceed if they wish to compete as women, the NCAA has none: The governing body for major-college sports simply requires biologically male athletes to take testosterone-suppressing hormones for at least one year. McKinnon and Eastwood have apparently done enough to comply with the rules of their sports’ respective governing bodies.

Still, science is proving that even after taking testosterone-suppressing hormones, biologically male athletes retain competitive advantages over women: The Journal of Medical Ethics published a study in August stating that biological males do not lose significant muscle mass or power after suppressing their testosterone levels below International Olympic Committee standards. The study also found that biological males who suppress their testosterone levels can retain and rebuild their muscle mass, power, and strength through training.

Some, like McKinnon, say transgender athletes should be able to compete according to their gender identity and without suppressing their testosterone levels. They might counter any arguments about unfairness by pointing to Eastwood’s performance at the Big Sky cross-country championships on Nov. 2: He placed eighth—proof that biological males are not automatically better than biological women in head-to-head competition.

However, Eastwood never placed higher than 24th at a Big Sky championship meet when running against men. In other words, even if he wasn’t faster than every woman who competed on Nov. 2, he was still faster than most—and he displaced one from earning all-conference honors.

In light of the study’s findings, the only real way to ensure competitive fairness in women’s sports is to keep men out. 

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Sean Rodríguez of the Philadelphia Phillies bats against the Baltimore Orioles. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Sports

Success and setback

When an accident and injury left Sean Rodríguez in a slump, he chose to work hard and leave results to God

Sean Rodríguez, right-handed versatile player for the Philadelphia Phillies, has just completed his 12th season of major league baseball—a season he wasn’t sure he’d ever play.

In November 2016, following his best season ever, Rodríguez signed an $11.5 million contract with the Atlanta Braves. Two months later, a stolen police cruiser T-boned the SUV he was driving with his wife, Giselle, and two of their four children. Giselle and his children suffered serious injuries. The driver of the stolen vehicle died as the cruiser burst into flames. 

Rodríguez says he only remembers standing next to his crumpled Suburban and seeing his wife and boys lying on the ground with paramedics kneeling over them. He was so focused on helping his family through the ordeal that 10 days passed before he realized he’d suffered significant shoulder damage, including a torn left rotator cuff.

His surgeon said it was the second-worst shoulder injury he’d seen and that even after surgery and rehab a comeback would be tough. Rodríguez responded: “I know my work ethic, and I know my Healer.” Even so, he labored long to regain strength and range of motion, at the same time caring for his recovering family.

After five months, he rejoined the Braves for 15 games before they traded him to the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he struggled through the end of 2017 and the 2018 season. “I think I was trying too hard,” says Rodríguez. “I couldn’t relax and just play.”

Last winter, he and Giselle had deep conversations about his baseball future. They decided Rodríguez would train as hard as ever, but they’d continue to trust God. He told me, “The accident brought my wife, my family, me, even closer to each other and to God. We weren’t gonna take any blessings for granted. Whether God wanted me to keep playing or not, so be it.”

In February, he signed a Phillies minor league contract for $100,000, a far cry from 2016. “It’s not about the money. … I’ve been passionate about baseball since I was 4,” he says. “I love the game.”

As a 33-year-old returning to the minors, he became the fireplug rallying the team. He took his own advice: Work harder than anyone else. Then trust your preparation and just play the game.

In April, the Phillies called him to the majors. He played every position but catcher and finished 2019 with a commendable .348 on-base percentage, the second-highest of his career.

Rodríguez wants to keep playing, but as a free agent he doesn’t know what next year holds. He says his ultimate goal is to play long enough to be able to donate a full season’s salary to church. He and Giselle plan to head to Cuba shortly to do short-term mission work.

John Blanchard, a leadership consultant for pro baseball teams, sees Rodríguez’s Christian faith at work in how he holds himself and his fellow players to a high standard: “Sean is driven by a love for Christ and his teammates.”

Rodríguez credits many for his perseverance, but especially his wife. “Giselle is not only beautiful, but has a heart for Jesus like I’ve never seen,” he says. When he travels, Giselle brings the kids to wherever Rodríguez is so that the family never spends a week apart.

The ballplayer is part of a texting group of about 10 players reading through the Bible together, and he recently attended a Pro Athletes Outreach event designed to exhort players in Christ.

Rodríguez says his parents profoundly influenced him: “My mom is a spiritual stronghold.” His dad, who became a Christian the year Rodríguez was born, taught him baseball isn’t who he is, it’s what he does. Rodríguez concurs: “Baseball is a platform for my faith.”

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Hannah Harris

Groundskeeper Larry DiVito (Hannah Harris)

Sports

Key role players

Behind the scenes with some of the people who make a baseball game happen 

For the first time in nine years, the Minnesota Twins are hosting playoff games. Exciting news for players and fans, but also for employees of the Twins’ home, Target Field. I went to a recent Twins game to find out what a home game is like for Target Field’s meteorologist, head groundskeeper, and organist. 

It’s sunny and 75, and Mace Michaels gets to relax. He’s the meteorologist for the Minnesota Twins, responsible for advising teams and umpires about upcoming weather. 

Tonight holds clear blue skies, but the radar shows a chance of rain for the following night. Michaels will keep an eye on the front for the next 24 hours. 

If Michaels predicts a rain delay, he needs to tell the pitchers before they warm up. Starting pitchers are like racehorses, he says: “You don’t want to get them heated up and then sit them down.” 

Ten years ago the Twins didn’t need a meteorologist; they played indoors at the Metrodome where it was “72 and cloudy all the time.” The Twins moved outdoors in 2010 to the new Target Field in downtown Minneapolis, three blocks from the headquarters of retail giant Target, which bought naming rights. 

According to Forbes, the Twins are valued at $1.2 billion, which ranks them 23rd out of 30 teams for net worth. It might seem odd that this relatively small-budget team is the only major league team to have its own meteorologist on staff. But the extremes of Minnesota weather make it understandable.

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