Mo'Ne Davis, the 13-year-old ace of the Taney Dragons of Philadelphia, has become a media sensation after back-to-back performances in which she utterly dominated the competition in the Little League postseason. On Friday, Davis became the first girl to pick up a win in the Little League World Series, hurling a six-inning, two-hit shutout over South Nashville.
What makes this story so compelling isn't just that a girl is proving she can compete with the boys -- it's that she's utterly thriving in a space historically prohibitive to young female players. Back in June, Emma Span wrote about the tendency to push girls into softball despite decades of women such as Davis holding their own in baseball. Span notes that while female athletes have carved out their own spheres in soccer and basketball, the forced delineation between baseball and softball upholds the "separate but equal" fallacy that refuses to acknowledge they're completely different sports.
Evolutionary psychologists and discrimination apologists alike tend to point to the physiological differences between the male and female bodies to justify these "separate but equal" practices, but the truth is that those of us advocating equality in sports have never been blind to the fact that differences do exist. When Becky Hammon was recently hired as the first full-time female coach in the NBA, she scoffed at the idea there would one day be a woman playing in the league, saying, "The guys are too big, too strong and that's just the way it is."
That may be true, but in the same breath, Hammon noted that a woman's physical limitations have no bearing on her ability to outthink the men in the game -- a fact that athletes can exploit particularly well on the diamond. As Greg Simons and Bradley Woodrum note in the Hardball Times, baseball is unique in that the sport's specialization places a wide range of physical demands on its players. One needn't have an ideal male physique to succeed -- just ask Bartolo Colon -- and knuckleballers such as Tim Wakefield enjoy great longevity in the game despite rarely throwing a pitch faster than 72 mph. Baseball in general and pitching in particular require much more than brute strength to yield top-quality athletes. "In short, pitchers can be quirky, creative, and successful," Simons writes.
Right now, Davis is overpowering batters with her devastating fastball, and if anything, she's demonstrating what scores of women, and the rest of us who root them on, are losing simply by being shut out from participation from the get-go. For all the good Title IX has done, an unfortunate consequence has also been to reinforce that some sports are for boys and others are for girls, rather than open the playing field to everyone. It would have been a shame for Davis to be denied the national stage by being funneled into softball. It would have been an even bigger shame for all the girls with the dream of playing baseball to be denied the chance to watch her play.
Not all girls hurl a 70 mph fastball, but neither can most of the boys. They adjust their games and their grips to accommodate their individual skill sets. Currently, for Davis, that means doing exactly what she's been doing, throwing neither like a boy or a girl but like herself. As she told ESPN on Friday, "I throw my curveball like Clayton Kershaw and my fastball like Mo'Ne Davis."
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