Earlier this month, the Catholic archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, decreed that after four years of Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) basketball together, the St. John’s 5th grade team (nine boys and two girls) would not be allowed to play the last two games of the season with girls on the teamA.
First, A Little Math
The maximum of any subset cannot be greater than the set maximum. This means that if the largest member of your weight-watching group is, say 400 pounds, then as people leave the group, that maximum will not get instantaneously larger; it could remain 400 pounds for a while, but will probably eventually get smaller.
Similarly, in sports you cannot raise the level of competition by restricting participation, meaning that you can’t say your team is the best in the universe if any member of the universe was barred from competing. Consequently, the only logical reason for restricting membership would be to protect those members from unfair competition, meaning a team would only ban girls if they thought their boys weren’t ready for real competition. As we all know, a group’s stated reasons for an action may differ from their real reasons.
I suspect the archdiocese’s advertised reason for the decree is to protect girls from competition they can no longer handle. But for that argument to have any credibility at all, at least two new conditions would have to be in effect:
- There would actually have to be a girl’s team if you want anybody to believe that their interests are really your first priority.
- You would protect a “weaker” group by banning the unfair competition from that group, not banning the allegedly weaker competition from the “stronger” or open group. The later option will rightly cause others to question your motives. “Who are you really protecting?”
The required game forfeitures would be further evidence of their true motive. A team is required to forfeit a game only if they won using an unfair advantage. You would not make a boxer forfeit all the matches he won with one hand tied behind his back. Obviously, the other boy’s teams not only considered the girls a threat, but most likely the sole reason for the team’s success.
A Happy Ending
On hearing the decree, the St. John’s 5th grade team immediately and unanimously decided to stick with their teammates and forfeit the season.
The girls, understandably, felt bad and offered to sacrifice themselvesA. St. John’s athletic director honorably rejected that offer (although in the body of that article, it suggests that the league director had already cancelled St. John’s season, making the athletic director’s gesture moot.)
A new Cardinal reversed the ban and allows St. John’s to playA.
A Not-So-Happy Ending: Politics Trumps Logic
I just read about a different, but logically related case in TexasA, where a girl was taking testosterone to become a boy and wanted to compete with boys, but was required to compete as a girl and won their state wrestling championship. I’ll leave the application of principle and subsequent comments to the reader.