Minnesota's governing body for high school sports passed rules on Thursday that one critic said could hypothetically put a future NFL linebacker at power forward on a girls basketball team.
The Minnesota State High School League voted that boys who "self-identify" as girls and girls who consider themselves boys will be able to compete on and against teams of their preferred gender under the policy that will begin in the 2015-2016 season.
"When there is confirmation of a student's consistent and uniform gender-related identity…the student will be eligible to participate in MSHSL activities consistent with the student's gender identification for the balance of the student’s high school eligibility," reads the policy. Executive Director Dave Stead noted earlier this year that the NCAA and 32 states already have “some sort of policy or procedure” in place regarding transgender student-athlete participation.
The league's media specialist tweeted out, "Minnesota will become the 33rd state to implement a policy for transgender high school athletes."
The policy requires transgender student-athletes to provide a written statement from a parent or guardian affirming the gender identity and a note from a health care professional regarding the student's consistent gender identification.
But in a column for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, attorney John Hagen said the new rules would open the state up to lawsuits if it tried to gauge the sincerity of gender claims.
"Imagine the following scenario," Hagen wrote. "An adolescent counterpart of Clay Matthews (the very long-haired, very burly linebacker for the Green Bay Packers) comes before your school board. He declares: 'I always have had a feminine self-image. I never told anyone, because of society’s expectations, but I’m revealing it now. My long hair is evidence of my sincerity and my feminine self-expression.'
— John Millea (@MSHSLjohn) December 4, 2014
"The High School League’s pending policy would compel the school to let this boy play power forward on the girls’ basketball team, regardless of safety considerations. (Imagine a Clay Matthews look-alike bowling girls over under the basket.) If the school resisted, it would promptly be faced with a lawsuit under the “will be eligible” clause."
Other critics have weighed in, including the Minnesota Child Protection League, which took out two full-page ads in the paper calling the policy "The End of Girls' Sports?"
The ad shows a brunette softball player resting her head on a bat, as though she was benched, with the caption, "Her dreams of a scholarship shattered, your 14-year-old daughter just lost her position on an all-girl team to a male…and now she may have to shower with him."
The policy states that these students would share showers and hotel rooms.
Autumn Leva of the Minnesota Family Council told MyFoxTwinCities.com that she would prefer a policy that reads, "For the purpose of league activity... a student's sex is their birth sex and students play on teams based on their birth sex with the exception that already exists in state law for girls." (State law already allows girl to play on boys teams.)
MPRNews.com reported that league officials started to consider the idea after fiery public testimony from self-described transgender athletes last October. Proponents say transgender athletes will feel more welcome to participate in sports; while those opposed bring up potential safety issues in the case of girls facing off with boys.
"A biological male has a larger skeletal structure, more muscle. Generally speaking this is true," Michele Lentz, the state coordinator of the Minnesota Child Protection League, told MPRNews.com. "To put them in a position where they are competing against girls, puts those girls in a situation where they could get hurt."
It appears unlikely the policy will prompt a flood of gender-crossing among high school athletes. Helen Carroll, the sports project director for The National Center for Lesbian Rights, told MPRNews.com that only about five transgender students across the country make the sport transition each year.