Jennifer Sey: Protect Female Athletes

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Jennifer Sey: Protect Female Athletes

In 1985, I competed as a member of Team USA at the World Gymnastics Championships in Montreal. On my last event, uneven bars, I suffered a devastating fall. I crashed to the ground, landed on one leg at a terribly wrong angle, and spun on the leg with my foot still in place. I didn’t know what happened, but I knew it wasn’t good. Days later, the International Gymnastics Federation changed the rules, allowing a spotter on the platform to intervene when necessary to prevent any avoidable injuries. 

Because of my injury, the rules were changed for the better. This wasn’t the first or the last time rules in gymnastics would be changed in the name of safety. The rules were changed swiftly, and athletes were undoubtedly spared similar injuries.

In 2001, the women’s vault equipment transformed from being a narrow “horse” to what the gymnasts compete on now called a “table” – which runs vertically instead of horizontally. Given that it is much longer, it prevents the hands from missing and the athlete landing on her head.

The change to this equipment was also prompted by a few very serious injuries, most notably to one of my USA teammates, Julissa Gomez. Gomez suffered a broken neck warming up on the vault at the World Sports Fair in Tokyo in 1988. Her feet slipped off the springboard, her hands missed the horse, and she crashed down on her neck. She died three years later as a result of her injuries.

Sadly, the rules were changed too late to save Gomez. But they did change, despite the fact that these types of injuries were not common occurrences. Thankfully, other gymnasts were spared a similar fate.

We need strong decision making that prioritizes the safety of female athletes. But the recent changes to Title IX shift legal protections based on sex to protections for “gender identity.” Doing so ignores the safety of women and girls. Based on these new regulations, a male who identifies as female must be allowed to compete against women. This puts women at added risk of injury.

In 2022, Payton McNabb, a high school volleyball player from North Carolina, suffered a serious concussion, a brain bleed and permanent whiplash when a male player claiming to be a female spiked the ball and hit her in the head during a game. McNabb was knocked unconscious and taken to the hospital. Her eyesight and memory were severely impacted. 

Almost two years later, McNabb is still impaired. “The cognitive issues and memory issues are the worst. They are worse than the headaches.” she told me. “I can’t focus in class. I never had trouble in school before.”

Payton also played softball. As a catcher in high school, she was one of the best in her conference and was set up to attend college on an athletic scholarship. But now, she can no longer play sports competitively. 

“I miss it so much. It’s sometimes hard to watch my little sister play,” she shared with me.

In MMA fighting, Fallon Fox — a male fighter claiming to be female — severely injured a female fighter back in 2014 in a match lasting only 3 minutes and sending Fox’s opponent to the emergency room with a concussion and broken orbital bone.

And still, USA Boxing announced a new policy this past January allowing male athletes to box against women, if they’ve undergone “gender reassignment surgery.” Fallon Fox had undergone “gender reassignment surgery” when he sent his opponent to the ER. Fox had also undergone full male puberty. 

There have been injuries in non-combat but high contact sports as well, sports like basketball and rugby. But only rugby has officially changed its policy

Despite the fact that just 6 years ago, at the height of the me too movement, an unwanted glance or incidental brush of the hand from a male might be considered violence and harassment, today, organizations like the NCAA don’t seem to care about women’s safety at all. 

Here’s what the NCAA had to say after a meeting on the subject of the Title IX re-write on April 25, 2024:

The Board of Governors discussed transgender student-athlete participation. The current policy remains under review. College sports are the premier stage for women’s sports in America and the NCAA will continue to promote Title IX, make unprecedented investments in women’s sports and ensure fair competition for all student-athletes in all NCAA championships.

No acknowledgement of the safety issues. 

Injuries happen in full contact sports. Which is all the more reason to ensure a fair fight, and not allow individuals who have the strength and size of an adult male to step onto the court or the field with females. 

It is dangerous for males to compete against females in women’s sports. It is time for the rules governing women’s sports to be clear and unwavering.

We can’t wait for someone to be killed from a serious injury before the NCAA and the USOPC take women’s safety seriously. 

Let Payton be the last serious injury. Change the rules. Protect female athletes. 

Save women’s sports.