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Playgrounds and Podiums exchange handout1 .pdf


Original filename: Playgrounds and Podiums exchange handout1.pdf
Author: Russell Currie

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'The Missing Panel on Gender in Sport' :
A revealing perspective on the politicization of sport and ideological corruption in academia.
Preamble:
This document is comprised primarily of an exchange of emails between myself, a philosophy
student and former student athlete at SMU, and the organizers of the Playgrounds and Podiums event,
including SMU professor Lisa Garnett. The context in which this exchange developed consists of me
submitting an abstract for this event, regarding how gender ought to be understood in the context of
categorizing athletes, and it being rejected on the basis that they were 'unable to accept' it. I didn't
see this response email until very recently, but it irked me that my abstract should be rejected without
providing any reason why and felt rather suspicious. At this point I had long since accepted that I
would not be given a platform for my views on the topic, but seeing this email prompted me to
investigate these matters. The exchange that follows is unedited. Following the exchange I will
supplement this document with some additional commentary where there are points to be made that
do not emerge from the exchange itself. What you will see in the exchange, is given in the following
order: my first email (with the attached submission edited into it), the rejection reply from the
Playgrounds and Podiums Committee, my questioning of that rejection, a long response from Lisa
Garrett, and my reply to her response, which has not yet been answered.

Exchange begins:
On Thu, Jul 27, 2017 at 7:23 PM, Russell Currie wrote:
Please see attached abstract submission.
<<Identity Politics in Sports: The Gender Games Traditionally, gender was defined in
biological terms, and until recently, that metric of defining gender was still consistently
used in the world of competitive sports and athletics. The traditional segregation of
biological males and females in sport was one that intended to ensure fairness of
competition, however in more recent times, it has come under scrutiny, and is being
challenged in various ways as our understanding of gender has shifted away from
biological metrics and towards the concept of ‘gender identity’. The world of competitive
sports certainly provides an interesting context to talk about gender, particularly how it
ought to be defined and categorized. One obvious reason for this is because no one properly
acquainted with competitive sports would dispute the quantifiable differences in
performance, that are consistent with the segregation of male and female athletes defined
via biological metrics, which happen to include differences in hormonal complexity and
physical capacities. On the other hand, we have prominent personalities like Caitlin Jenner
(Formerly known as Bruce Jenner, American Decathlete and Olympic Gold medalist) who
was able to take advantage of the pedestal her athletic careers placed her upon, in order to
advocate for transgenderism. Problems arise in competitive sport, when efforts are made to
accommodate an athlete’s gender identity, when it doesn’t ‘line up’ with the athlete’s

biological sex. There have been various cases of biological males, who identify as women,
competing with women in competitive sport, and subsequently the biological women are
severely out performed athletically in such cases. Is this a problem of unfairness? As a track
and field athlete, I am inclined to think so. At a high school track and field meet, I was able
to out-perform women’s world records in various short-distance events, as a young,
amateur athlete. My performance was good enough to take me to the provincial meets, and
I would later compete in AUS track and field for St. Mary’s, but I by no means consider
myself to be a world class athlete. However, it is interesting to think that this is what I
would be considered, if I identified as a woman, and assuming a gender segregation based
on ‘gender identity’ in competitive sport. The kinds of questions I intend to focus on for this
essay are as follows: What is the way in which gender should be defined, in the context of
competitive sport? And, especially if athletes are to be segregated on the basis of ‘gender
identity’ rather than biological sex, what metrics should be used, if any, to ensure fairness
of competition amongst competing athletes? Would the establishment of acceptable
hormonal ranges and testing, for example, be sufficient to ensure fairness of competition?
Or, would it be better segregate athletes in terms of physical prowess alone, and abandon
concerns about gender entirely? Is the case of competing against athletes such as Usain
Bolt, who happen to born with uniquely advantageous physiology for their sports, a case of
unfairness of competition, or should it instead be regarded as bad luck? Is there a
distinction between these sorts of advantages, and the sorts of advantages that can result for
trans athletes? >>
Russell Currie

Sent: August 4, 2017 11:23 AM
Dear Mr. Currie,
After careful review, we regret to inform you that we are unable to accept your submission, “Identity
Politics in Sports: The Gender Games,” to the Playgrounds and Podiums: Contemporary Issues in
Sport Conference at Saint Mary’s University, from September 29-30.
We thank you for your time and interest in Playgrounds and Podiums, and hope you are still interested
in attending the conference.
Sincerely,
Playgrounds and Podiums Organizing Committee
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

On Wed, Sep 27, 2017 at 10:22 AM,
To whom it may concern in the 'Playgrounds and Podiums Organizing Committee'

I cannot help but wonder why it is that you were unable to accept my submission. As your
reply acknowledges, I did expend the time and efforts required to construct draft a
submission abstract, and this was motivated by interest in the event and the topics of
discussion it includes. What troubles me, is that it seems there are only two reasonable
interpretations for why you would be 'unable to accept' my submission, which you
neglected to provide me with in letting me know that it was rejected, regardless of my
expended time and effort.
These interpretations are as follows:
1) The quality of my submission is insufficient.
This could mean that my topic, namely gender in sport, is simply not a contemporary issue
in sport, but this is an obviously false. Alternatively this could mean that the quality of my
writing was inadequate, meaning that it is incoherent, grammatically poor, not well
supported, or very lacking in logical consistency. The latter seems very unlikely to me,
based on the feedback I typically get for my writing from my professors here at SMU,
where the event is to be hosted, but I do acknowledge the possibility that all of the spaces
were filled by submissions of recognizably higher quality writing than mine.
2) My submission has been regarded as subversive to the political aims of the ' Playgrounds
and Podiums' event.
The trouble with this justification, is that this is not actually a legitimate reason to decline
or reject any sort of submission in the context of a discussion that alleges to be academic,
or in the pursuit of knowledge and furthering of our understanding. If this were why you
were 'unable to accept' my submission, then that is indicative of a serious problem:
ideological and/or political strictures are being imposed on the students, destroying
academic freedom, and transforming 'the university' from a place of education to one
of indoctrination.
At this point, all I can be certain of is that you were 'unable to accept' my submission, as
you say. I look forward to hearing your explanation, should you be provide me with one as
I am requesting. I sincerely hope the case that all of successful applicants produced
submissions of better quality, but I'll be able to make some assessment of that when I
observe the panels.
Cheers!
-Russell
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Dear Russell,
You are to be commended for taking the initiative to submit an abstract to a conference. As an
organizing committee, we really appreciated the response our call for abstracts received.

The questions you raise in your abstract are good ones: How should gender be defined in competitive
sport? If gender self-identification is sufficient to group athletes, are there biological metrics that
should be instituted? Is variation in biological metrics associated with gender different in kind that
other sorts of variation that separate superstars like Bolt from the rest of us?
You propose two reasons why you think your abstract might have been rejected by the organizing
committee: (i) the quality was “insufficient”; and (ii) your topic is “subversive to the political aims” of
the event. I’m not quite sure what you surmise the “political aims” of the conference to be. Certainly,
as someone involved in community sport, I would like to see more discussion among all stakeholders
about what we collectively value in sport, so that there is more grass-roots input into Canadian sport
policy. We hope that the conference will get people together from a wide variety of backgrounds to
discuss contemporary issues in sport in a way that fosters that discussion. Your topic is quite
mainstream – lots of people research issues associated with gender and sport – so not subversive at
all.
As far as (i) goes, the quality of your abstract was indeed lacking. Your abstract was well enough
written – it could have been better structured and more coherent, but the writing was clear. And, as I
have already said, the questions you raise are good ones – they certainly qualify as contemporary
issues in sport. But a conference organizing committee is looking for more than these two bare
minimum criteria when it comes to quality. As a committee tasked with assessing abstracts, rather
than complete papers, we have to judge as fairly and reasonably as we can what the eventual product
will be like. We are looking to see that the author has engaged substantively with current research in
the relevant field. We are looking for a degree of theoretical sophistication in the author’s framing of
the research question(s). If indicated, we are looking for a body of empirical data that has been
collected and substantiates the author’s conclusions. We are looking to see that the author has not
just posed questions but provided an indication of how those questions will be answered.
During the past few decades, I have organized many conferences and reviewed countless conference
abstracts, journal articles, and grant proposals. The review process often involves sitting down with
others and making decisions. Sometimes these decisions are difficult, and sometimes there is
disagreement among committee members. For the Playgrounds and Podiums conference, we had a
limited number of time slots for presenters, and so we had to reject several submissions. In the case
of your abstract, the entire committee shared the same set of concerns. We agreed that your project
is at a very preliminary stage, and we were not confident that it would be conference-ready in
September. There is a great deal of literature published in the humanities and social sciences on sex,
gender, and sport – for example, on the history of sex testing at the Olympics, on representations of
masculinity and femininity, on recent controversies about Caster Semenya and others who confound
sex/gender binarisms, etc. There was no indication in your abstract that you had engaged with this
extensive body of research.
Here are a few additional comments on your abstract that will hopefully be of help if you continue to
work on this topic:
•The sex-gender distinction is under-theorized – the distinction between biological sex and
socio-cultural gender is more than a half-century old and there is some theoretical ground to
cover

•When personal experience is brought to bear on an issue, concerted efforts need to be made
to draw theoretically upon that experience: so, if you are going to discuss your experiences as a
track athlete, this has to be done in a way that is theoretically edifying
•The mention of Caitlin Jenner and her platform for transgenderism as a former Olympic
decathlete is not especially germane to the topic as a whole
•Your reference to “various cases of biological males, who identify as women, competing with
women in competitive sport, and subsequently the biological women are severely out
performed” is not well contextualized: if you mean athletes like Caster Semenya and Dutee
Chand, they likely have intersex conditions – they are not “biological males”
•The challenges that transgenderism poses for competitive sport are unlikely to be theorized
adequately by beginning from a place that imagines yourself simply showing up to a track meet
one day and entering the women's events -- more informative, theoretically, would be the
growing body on literature on transgenderism; more informative, empirically, would be taking
a look at how sporting organizations are grappling with how to accommodate transgendered
athletes, from children to youth to adults
An unsolicited -- but I hope helpful -- word of advice. If you are hoping to pursue an academic career,
you will have to be prepared to meet with failure as well as success. Peer review is central to what we
do as academics. Generally, in academia, when we get bad news from a conference organizing
committee, journal editor, or grant agency, we suck it up. We may gripe to our partners and friends,
but it’s considered noncollegial and bad-mannered (and it is also counter-productive in the long run)
to write emails such as yours. There is no onus on committees, editors, or agencies to respond in
detail to all submissions – in fact, increasingly, when I am asked to be a reviewer, I am discouraged
from offering detailed comments, for the purpose of minimizing turn-around times.
However, because you are an undergraduate student at Saint Mary’s, and just learning the ropes of
academia, I have taken the time and trouble to provide you with feedback. I hope that this feedback
will be helpful when you next submit an abstract to a conference or should you continue to pursue
your philosophical interests in gender and sport.
I trust that if you attend the conference this weekend, you will be supportive of your fellow students
who have worked so hard to put the event together, and you will be respectful of, and open to
learning from, the faculty and students who were invited to present.
Best,
Lisa Gannett
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Hi Lisa
of the conference to

Thanks for taking the time to write a thorough reply to me. I appreciate your advice and I am glad that
you liked my questions posed in my abstract. In good will, I will do my best to clarify some things.
What I meant by 'subversive' in this context, was that I would be investigating these questions in my
submission from a perspective that does not appeal to the authority of social-constructionists
regarding gender, because I do not regard gender as a social construct. As someone endeavoring to do

philosophical work on this subject, I have my own ideas about gender and sex and what they are in
relation to each-other conceptually. Incidentally I would reject the gender/sex distinction insofar as it
implies that gender can be completely understood independent of biology, and argue that it is only
when we are discussing things like cultural forms of gender expression eg. Fashion, that social
constructionist theory is warranted. So, although the chosen topic is in some sense mainstream, as
you say, my paper would have been written against the grain of a lot of popular beliefs, and sadly,
some would condemn such work as subversive, even though it is purely academic. To be clear, when I
spoke of “political aims,” I was expressing concerns about identity politics being pushed though means
of selective panel topics. This seems to be evidently the case, when I look at the other panal abstracts,
incidentally.
Again, I am glad that you thought my questions were good and the writing was clear. It is unfortunate
to know that you require 'that the author has engaged substantively with current research in the
relevant field' because I do not consider these areas of academic inquiry to be legitimate sources of
knowledge and I have no reason to appeal to their authority in my paper. If I was trying to convince
you, for instance, that God exists, and you didn't believe me, it would be inadequate for me to say the
quality of your stance is lacking since you have not read enough ancient scriptures about God. You can
just reject the authority of the bible as a viable source of knowledge. You are right that there are vast
amounts of 'literature published in the humanities and social sciences on sex', but I would've much
rather wrote with appeal to the relevant things that I actually know about: gender, sports, and basic
biology, making use of the skills of logical analysis and argumentation I have learned here in the
philosophy department at SMU. I must concede that I was unaware that research needed to be
accounted for to such an extent. To be honest, I had only anticipated including a few citations and
statistics in the final paper. I knew the panel was supposed to be interdisciplinary, so I wanted to
provide a philosophical perspective that was more than just a synthesis of previous social
constructionist opinions and ideology. I was not aware of any such strictures being imposed, other
than it had to be 'methodological'.
I suppose it's nice to know that the decision to not accept my submission was arrived at
democratically. You're absolutely right that an abstract is a very preliminary stage, but I do think I
could have had something good ready in time for September, especially if you were as willing to assist
me then as you seem to be now. It seems the prime factor in my submission's inadequacy was it's lack
of empirical data and research, but I can't help but notice that the abstract for 'Gender Diversity in
Roller Derby as a Framework for Social Justice in Sport ' contains only one citation
(https://wftda.com/wftda-gender-statement/) and this business website is not academic, and does
not contain any empirical data. It does however provide some questionable definitions of terms likes
'transgender' and 'gender-expansive', and asks for money donations. The reasons I bring up this
example are: 1) This abstract was uploaded, meaning it was considered better than mine by everyone
involved in that decision making process, and 2) It is evidently a very politically charged piece of work,
and subsequently very much at odds with everything I would have concluded in my own work, on the
same topic. This claim's justification is nicely characterized in the following excerpt: “Roller derby’s
solution to the problem of gender discrimination is simultaneously liberal in accepting a wider range
of participants while also demanding a more strict enforcement of that acceptance. By no longer
requiring a doctor’s note or other invasive "proof", self-identification is the only consideration
required for athletes to have a place to compete in a league that will accept and empower them.”

I do not think there is anything particularly confounding about the case of inter-sexed athletes in
competitive sports. Rather than making people accept certain ideas about gender, we could consider
basic biology and examine them to see if there are y chromosomes present or not. That is sufficient,
objective and conclusive. Mutations, genetic or physiological, are insufficient to declare a new gender
that is neither male nor female. For that, to be justifiable, the minimum criteria would be the sudden
appearance of new sex chromosomes and new primary sex characteristics. In a similar sense, it would
not be legitimate to say 'the human race is no longer bipedal, because a child was born with three
legs' or 'now the "leggedness" of humans exists on a spectrum'. If gender were a mere construct, that
had nothing to do with biology then we would have no way of knowing what category of
worldly things to apply it to as a concept. If you actually want to take the position that gender truly
has nothing to do with biology whatsoever, in which case competitive sport will probably no longer be
fair (depending on what fairness consists in), then we no longer have an worldly basis at all for any of
our thoughts about the concept of gender.
Based on the rest of your reply, I think its fair to say that we do not see eye to eye on this subject. It
will likely stay that way given the difficulties and obstacles which stand to stifle and perhaps eliminate
these kinds of perspectives in the contexts of liberal arts universities today. Whether or not this is in
any way a case of that, I do intend to attend some panel discussions and engage in the ideas. I do not
intend to be disrespectful to anyone, but I am certainly fine with notion of challenging ideas and
debating correctness.
My final remarks are as follows:
On the one hand you criticized my abstract to be thin in content, but on the other hand it is said to
offer evidence that my paper would suffer from all kinds of defects. Im not sure exactly how you could
know so much about something so lacking in substance, without significant bias. It seems illogical to
me that my abstract would allow the reader to anticipate a bad paper, and that any doubts should
have at least been been aired in discussion before a decision was made, by virtue of what merits you
were willing to concede. As for limitation of numbers of participants, I am aware that extra slots can
easily be created. The regional philosophy conference rejects very few papers, and creates as many
slots as are needed to enable as many people as possible to present their papers. Also, the regional
conference does not expect elaborate abstracts – the kind of abstract I submitted is probably quite
normal. Nor is it appropriate to insist that a paper must conform to a variety of norms; for example,
you might even want to go so far as to devote the whole paper to arguing for your own views, and pay
no attention to others’ views, and that is perfectly legitimate.
-Russell
Exchange ends.

Additional commentary:
Concerning the politicization of sport with identity politics, the example of this exchange clearly
illustrates the point that finance capitalists are using all major institutions in order to plant divisive
ideology that is used to rally support for politicians who are their agents. The idea is to get people
worked up about issues and then motivate them to vote for politicians who supposedly will deal with
those issues on their behalf, but who in fact will simply follow the agenda of the finance capitalists.
Efforts are still being made, for example, to convince American women that they acted against their
own interests if they did not vote for Mrs. Clinton. It's not as if they can go back in time and vote for
her. People who make money from sport are expected to take financial losses if necessary to play their
part – they will be made to suffer even bigger losses, e.g. through withdrawal of subsidies, if they
refuse to play their part. Athletes are being used as props to deliver political propaganda, and a good
recent example of this is what we have been seeing in the NFL recently, and other major league sports
associations by extension. These people's jobs are to play sports. They are not world leaders,
politicians, or political commentators, so why are they serving their roles? Clearly arts faculties are
obviously playing their part too, and students are being distracted from sound academic thinking and
from dealing with the most important issues, in the course of lining them up behind rival ideologies
which will motivate them to vote for “rival” political parties that seem to embrace those ideologies. If
we neglect, for instance, the biological (including physiological, psychological, neurological, etc)
layers of complexity to the concept of gender (in other words, the complexity of being a man or of
being a woman) and assert that it is a mere social construction, we know longer have any worldly
grounding basis for our understandings of that category of humans. Hence progress can no longer
happen there and instead what we are left with is the concepts ideologically driven fragmentation in
academia, like 'queer theory' and 'gender studies' and 'feminism' classes. Tensions and discord between
these resulting 'schools of thought' generate identity politics and ideology. The judgment that 'all men
are males' is of the exact same kind as the judgment that 'all dogs are mammals', because 'male' is just a
category of human, in the same way that 'mammal' is just a category of animal, given that we know
men are human and dogs are animals. There are clearly some very dubious forces at work, and it is is
happening on university campuses. The notion that X can identify as Y is completely nonsensical. This
is easily illustrated when we compare the traditional use of the term 'identify' to this newer politically
charged meaning. The statement “The suspect was identified as a tall black man” makes perfectly good
sense, but on the other hand, “The tall black man identifies as a small white woman” does not. The idea
that competitive athletes should be able to impose their gender identity and other such classifications
onto the league without any justification is especially appalling. It is truly a sad state of affairs that the
university campus and the sporting arena both find themselves so plagued by the influence of selfish
bureaucratic finance capitalists, whose only concerns are maintaining and augmenting their social
affluence.


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