I'm sorry, Serena, but you're just too good to be on the tennis team. We've decided that you should be on the chess team.
It is difficult for me to comprehend the kind of thought processes that Southampton (New York) High School to ban student Keeling Pilaro, the only boy on the school’s field hockey team, from playing this season because he is too good at the game, which he learned as a child in Ireland. I do know their logic is unethical, un-American, and unfair, at least as unfair ought to be defined in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
“They told me I wasn’t allowed to play because I had advanced skills that I learned in Ireland,” Keeling told local TV reporters. “They told me because I have an ‘adverse effect,’ but they didn’t even explain what the adverse effect was, so that’s what I’m kind of confused about.”
The executive director of the Suffolk County field hockey organization told the local Fox affiliate that the boy was being banned because field hockey “is a girl’s sport.” “When a boy plays,” he explained, “it leads the way for other male players to come in and take over. “[Keeling is] having a significant adverse effect on some of his opposing female players. The rules state he would be allowed to play if he wasn’t the dominant player.”
“Adverse effect,” in field hockey-speak, apparently means an unfair physical advantage, danger to opponents, keeping a girl from getting more playing time or taking away from a female’s ability to garner postseason awards.
Ah. So we’re talking about discrimination, then, are we? Just so we have our terms straight.
If the woman’s movement has integrity, and it often doesn’t, we would see women protesting this indefensible treatment of the sole male player on a female team. The only field hockey team in the school is the girl’s team: Keeling, by the same principles of fairness and equal opportunity that have been enforced to allow girls to try out for boy’s wrestling, football and baseball teams in high schools and colleges around the country if they have the skills to make the team, should have every right to play on the only field hockey team there is, and not be penalized for his superior skills. Have authorities ever kicked a girl off a field because she was too fast, too strong, too skilled, too good? Would they? I certainly hope not.
Imagine if Ted Williams, LeBron James, Joe Montana, Bobby Orr and Serena Williams had been kicked off their high school teams because they dominated. What kind of Maoist, mediocrity-rewarding, excellence-stifling values is Southampton High trying to infect the nation with by penalizing high performance and achievement? Apparently they don’t understand the nature of competition, which is a serious handicap for a school, and a malady that should not be passed on to a single student. The outstanding competitors make every other player better, unless a player doesn’t want to make the effort, doesn’t have the character to accept that one doesn’t have to win to achieve something important in a contest, or is playing for the wrong reasons. I remember that I was once admonished by a stage director of an amateur production that I was too skilful and experienced for the rest of the cast, and was making them look bad. I was aghast then, and that conversation makes me angry even now, decades later. “Tell them how to be better, then, ” I told her. “Because I’m sure not going to try to do any less than my best.”
We have to decide if we’re really serious about gender equality or not. Keeling is not bigger than the girls on his team, and he doesn’t have a beard and 18 inch biceps. There are two things different about him, and two things only: he is really good, and he has male genitals. I thought the lesson of the women’s movement was that one’s genitals shouldn’t matter, that what mattered was whether you could do the job. Or does that rule only apply to female genitals?
I can certainly understand, if not the logic that is stopping Keeling Pilaro from playing the sport he loves, where the seeds of such illogical logic come from. The seeds come from the bizarre regulations that allow women to be firefighters with upper body strength that would disqualify male recruits, and female soldiers to be certified as combat ready without having to meet the same requirements as a male soldier. They come from affirmative action. When equality doesn’t mean equality in our nation’s increasingly warped, discrimination-is-fairness culture created by regulators, activists and bureaucrats, “Through the Looking Glass” decisions like this one, telling a player he’s too good to be eligible for the team, can begin to make sense.
It doesn’t make sense. It’s not fair, it’s not healthy, and if one applies Kant’s Rule of Universality to it, we end up with a nation of gray, where, as the old Chinese proverb cautions, “the protruding nail will he hammered down.” No more Babe Ruths, no Dana Torreses; no David Beckhams, no Michael Jordans, no Carl Lewises, no Muhammad Alis, no Tiger Woods. And also, as this infection spreads, no Meryl Streeps, Thomas Jeffersons, Thomas Edisons, Eugene O’Neils, or Barbra Streisands. After all, we mustn’t make the less talented and accomplished look bad, feel bad, or make them have to aim higher and work harder to achieve their dreams. It’s wrong to excel. It has an “adverse effect” on those who can’t or won’t.
We all have a stake in whether Keeling Pilaro gets to play field hockey this fall.