By Harry Storm
(Apologies to our non-North American contingent but here in NA we call it football even though there’s very little kicking in the sport.)
I was listening to swimmer Riley Gaines – who famously tied transitioned male swimmer Lia Thomas in an NCAA 200-metre race only to have Thomas handed the trophy for photographs, and who more recently was assaulted and forced into a room for 3 hours by a baying mob of transactivists and their allies – testifying before a U.S. House of Representatives Committee on “Protecting the Rights of LGBTQ+ Citizens,” when it occurred to me that women’s sports have become – or at least are in the process of becoming – the equivalent of the Canadian Football League (CFL) for male athletes who “identify” as women.
This seemingly absurd analogy requires explanation. The Canadian Football League is a venerable (if always cash-strapped) sports organization that goes back to the early 20th century. Teams from nine Canadian cities compete for the Grey Cup. The rules for Canadian football are similar, but not identical to those of the American variety. Differences include a larger field, 12 players on a side instead of 11, and 3 downs instead of 4. Although these differences are significant, the overall look of the games are very similar and the same skills are required for each position in both games. (The origins and rules of both Canadian and American football derive from a pair of modified rugby matches in Cambridge, Mass. between Harvard University and McGill University of Montreal in 1874, which is why the games are so similar.)
But it isn’t the rules on the field that matter here; rather, it’s the CFL regulations concerning the number of Americans that are allowed to play on CFL teams. Currently, only 19 of the 45 players on each team’s roster can be American; the rest must be Canadian.
Why does this matter? Because the talent pool in the U.S. for football is many, many times larger than that of Canada, in part because of the relative size of the two countries in population, and in part because college football in the U.S. is a much bigger deal than its Canadian counterpart; for instance, the Vanier Cup game for the championship of Canadian university football, might draw 20,000 to 25,000 people at best, whereas your average American college game at a football oriented University can easily draw over 60,000 attendees.
This means that American footballers not quite talented enough to make it onto a National Football League team often end up playing in the CFL, and unarguably form the majority of the league’s better players. If you want proof that American footballers dominate the Canadian game, consider this: In 1994 the cash-strapped CFL gave a franchise to Baltimore, which had just lost its NFL team, the Colts. Because the limit on Americans was, sensibly enough, removed for the Baltimore Stallions, the team, comprised of only American players, made it to the Grey Cup game in its first season and won it in its second (and last) season. (The team disbanded after another NFL team moved to Baltimore.)
In other words, the CFL is a league in which players not good enough to make it in the NFL can still become celebrated and reasonably well-paid, albeit on a much smaller scale. The parallels with trans-identified male athletes competing in women’s sports are obvious: A newly transitioned athlete could jump from, say, the National Basketball League to the Women’s National Basketball League and become an instant if lesser – star. Moving from the hypothetical to the real, Laurel Hubbard was a washed up male weightlifter who, after “transitioning,” became an Olympic level athlete in women’s weightlifting. Similarly, swimmer Lia Thomas, ranked 462 in the U.S. as a male swimmer, became an NCAA women’s champion after transitioning.
Transactivists and allies often point out that not all males athletes who transition became women’s champions, and there, too, there are parallels with the CFL. In 1981, the Montreal Allouettes paid Quarterback Vince Ferragamo a very tidy sum of $650K to leave the NFL (where he was making considerably less) and become the Allouettes starting quarterback. However, Ferragamo had difficulty adjusting to the Canadian game and ultimately was dropped and returned to the NFL.
But Ferragamo’s experience was an exception; CFL team coaches can only dream about having an all American roster that would clobber opponents just as the short-lived Baltimore Stallions did.
And that’s the biggest difference between American players coming to Canada to play in the CFL and transitioning males participating in women’s sport. CFL management, players, and fans all welcome the participation of Americans – with the above-mentioned restrictions, to be sure – because it improves the quality of the game.
Women, on the other hand, rightly fear exclusion and erasure from their own sports due to the participation of trans “women,” and not only at the professional and quasi-professional level. Top-level high-school student athletes can lose accolades, awards, ratings and, perhaps most important, athletic scholarships to transitioned males who were middling athletes a year earlier when competing as and against males.
On the fairness scale, allowing more Americans to play in the CFL ranks much lower than allowing post-pubescent males who have transitioned to compete against women. And yet the CFL restricts the number of Americans on CFL teams, whereas currently in North America, male athletes who have transitioned face few if any regulatory barriers to compete against women, even when their safety, never mind fairness, is compromised. And if the photograph of Lia Thomas towering over the second and third place finishers at a university swim meet wasn’t able to drive home just how unfair it is to turn women’s swimming – and women’s sports in general – into a lesser league for middling male athletes, it’s hard to imagine what if anything will make sporting bodies infiltrated by or allied with transactivism finally see sense.