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CrossFit Finally Gets Something Right: The Chloie Jonsson Controversy

Anyone who knows my writing knows that I am not a huge fan of CrossFit. Discrepancies among coach skill levels and the fact that CrossFit is (in my opinion) an extreme sport lead me to believe that there are better (and safer) options for the beginning fitness enthusiast simply looking to get in shape.

That being said, there is nothing wrong with a physical competition like the CrossFit Games, even if it has inherent risks. I myself have been involved in 2 bodybuilding contests that were anything but safe.

Low calories and extreme workouts were the norm in preparation for these contests. So the idea behind the CrossFit Games is perfectly valid and admirable in my opinion. The competitors know the risks when they sign up and they take their chances.

What isn’t fine by me is the fact that society’s desire for transgender equality (as noble as it may be in everyday life) is leaching into competitive sports. Case in point one Chloie Jonsson, a transgender female athlete who was recently denied admittance to compete in the female division of the CrossFit Games.

Chloie has since filed a 2.5 million dollar lawsuit against CrossFit for violating her civil rights.

CrossFit allegedly sent a letter to Jonnson explaining their decision. Here is an excerpt from that letter:

 

“Our decision has nothing to do with ‘ignorance’ or being bigots — it has to do with a very real understanding of the human genome, of fundamental biology, that you are either intentionally ignoring or missed in high school.”

 

If that is truly the way they explained the situation to her, then shame on them for being pompous douchebags. I think the explanation should be a bit more scientific, and without sounding self-serving; more along the lines of the rest of this blog…

 

Facts, facts, it’s all about the facts…

 

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” –John Adams

 

Let’s face the facts here – even before the onset of puberty males have been found in various studies to be superior to females in athletic activities [1].

And those advantages are before puberty, after puberty males dominance increases in almost every area of athletics. For example, men have a 30% greater lung capacity (on average) than women [3].

Women’s hearts are smaller than those of men of the same stature; on average a female’s heart is 25% smaller than a male’s heart. Thus, men also have a higher stroke volume (more blood is pumped per beat) and lower heart rate than women – meaning women generally tend to fatigue quicker than men.

Men have wider shoulders, greater bone density, a higher red blood cell count, and a more efficient gait (narrower hips) that increases athletic performance and decreases chance of injury.

Then there is the study from Thomas and French that shows that overarm throwing is decidedly better in men than in women [2]. This could have huge implications in sports like Mixed Martial Arts and CrossFit where shoulder motion is of great asset.

Males have also been shown to have greater reflexes and broad motor skills than females in virtually all studies; one of the latest (2010) used both audio and visual stimuli with male and female athletes and showed a decided advantage for males [4]. Men also carry 40% more muscle in the upper body and 33% more in the lower body than their female counterparts.

Granted, when a man begins to physically (and hormonally) transition to a female, she will lose a few of these advantages…but not all of them. Higher red blood cell count may go down due to less testosterone, muscle mass will diminish a bit, bone density might start to decline, and the brain may even change a little due to shifting hormones.

But to think that the athlete loses all signs of the male physiological advantage is absurd. The transgender athlete will most certainly keep the wide shoulders, extra lung capacity, bigger heart, more efficient gait, and resistance to injury.

Chances are that her reflexes will keep some of their adaptive male edge as well, and that she will keep the extra endurance from the bigger stroke volume of the male heart she developed during puberty.

 

Let’s be Objective…

 

Now, lets’ say for the sake of argument that only one of these scientifically based advantages remained after the sex change and hormone therapy. Only one. Then I would ask you – isn’t one one too many? Is this not supposed to be a fair contest – or at least as fair as the governing bodies can make it?

If you can ignore the amount of science presented in this article in favor of “equality” then I feel you are blinded to the truth by passion. Most certainly in many cases transgendered people are mistreated by prejudice people who do not agree with what they are doing. I am not one of those people. The only bias I am expressing is a bias towards fairness and equality.

I think transgendered people have every right to the pursuit of their own individual happiness – and if that happiness is best obtained by changing their sex then so be it.

But when a person who spent their teenage years with male hormones flowing through their veins (Chloie was a male until age 26) wants to compete on a level playing field with women who have not had that physical advantage – that crosses the line.

 

Speaking of Lines

 

Let’s not blur the line between equality and physiology; because if we do we end up mistreating and wronging another section of people – women athletes. Women have their own strengths and advantages, but in athletics the male athlete has an unmistakable edge.

In my opinion Crossfit is right on this one. Chloie has every right to live her life as the woman she was born to be – but that doesn’t make her athletic advantages null and void. Bravo Crossfit – not for being bigots (I don’t think you were), and certainly not for the lack of politeness in your explanation to Chloie, but for standing up for what is fair and just for female athletes the world over.

 

Please comment below and let me know your opinions!

 

  1. Blanksby, B. A., Bloomfield, J., Elliott, B. C., Ackland, T. R., & Morton, A. R. (1986). The anatomical and physiological characteristics of pre-adolescent males and females. Australian Pediatric Journal, 22, 177-180.

  2. Thomas, J. R., & French, K. E. (1985). Gender differences across age in motor performance: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 98, 260–282.

  3. Ganong, William. “Fig. 34-7″. Review of Medical Physiology (21st ed.).

  4. Spierer, D. K., R. A. Petersen, K. Duffy, B. M. Corcoran and T. Rawls-Martin. 2010. Gender influence on response time to sensory stimuli. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 24(4) (20: 957-964.

 

 

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12 Comments

  • Nick March 19, 2014 at 4:24 pm

    Couldn’t agree more, Jay. Equality does not equal sameness.

    • Jay March 19, 2014 at 4:55 pm

      Thanks for the reply Nick, it’s a tough topic but one that needs to be addressed IMO.

  • Joe March 20, 2014 at 12:58 am

    I couldn’t agree more Jay!! Even my wife agrees that it wouldn’t be fair to the women that put their blood, sweat, and tears in their training just to get beat by a dude that wants to be a woman!

    • Jay March 20, 2014 at 10:47 am

      Joe, in my opinion there is simply too much evidence showing it indeed isn’t fair. Thanks for the comment!

  • Hoyt March 21, 2014 at 4:53 pm

    Spot on Jay. Facts based on the science of biology. We are equal but not the same.

    • Jay March 21, 2014 at 6:54 pm

      Thanks Hoyt – I almost wanted to come to a different conclusion, but couldn’t.

  • Alice March 21, 2014 at 4:54 pm

    Great post, Jay! You brought up some points I hadn’t thought of. Men DO have a bio-mechanical advantage in many athletic activities, such as throwing and pull-ups. Bigger heart and lungs are a definite plus too. A transgender woman will retain those advantages. I agree with your conclusion!!

    • Jay March 21, 2014 at 6:56 pm

      Thanks Alice! When I started digging into the research it was hard to argue with. I was surprised by much of it – and there is a LOT of it.

  • Colette cooper March 21, 2014 at 8:02 pm

    Fantastic article Jay well done

    • Jay March 21, 2014 at 8:07 pm

      Thanks Colette :)

  • Tim April 10, 2014 at 2:31 pm

    Hey Jay, you make a lot of great points in this article and I’m in full agreement with this statement: Chloie has every right to live her life as the woman she was born to be – but that doesn’t make her athletic advantages null and void.

    In my opinion, Chloie’s actions negatively affect the transgender community. As society changes and gender changes become more common, we can only hope that competitive sports will be able to hold their ground in order to keep a level playing field.

    • Jay April 10, 2014 at 2:39 pm

      It’s a tough situation Tim. The truth is that if someone has any pre-existing masculine advantages at all – that affects the fairness of female competitive sports. It does not affect Chloie’s ability to be a woman – just to compete in competitive athletics as one.

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