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Sport and Competition

The Disastrous Differences Between Boys and Girls

Athletic differences between the sexes have come home to roost.

Author Michael Sokolove is something of an expert when it comes to sociology of sports. In the past, he's written about the myth of Pete Rose and the upbringing of Darrel Strawberry and the cultural divide between athletes and reporters. Last month, he added another book to his resume, and this one is stirring up something of a hornet's nest. That's because Sokolove's new book is about the downside of Title Nine-a topic most reporters have been loathe to cover.

Title Nine, also known as the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act is the law requiring equal funding for boys and girl's sports at the high school and college level. Ever since it passed, and never mind the biology, anyone pointing out that there are certain fundamental differences between men and women have basically been politically-corrected out of business. But-as anyone with half-a-brain has figured out-there are some basic athletic differences between guys and gals and those differences have finally come home to roost.

The title of Sokolove's new book says it all: "Warrior Girls: Protecting Our Daughters Against the Injury Epidemic in Women's Sports." See, sportswomen are 10 times more likely to hurt themselves playing football than men and 3.5 times more likely to suffer injuries playing basketball. Girls are five times as likely to rupture their anterior cruciate ligaments (ACLs) than boys, prone to a far greater incidence of concussion and, well, this list goes on and on.

A lot of this is simple hormonal genetics. When boys hit their teenage years, testosterone starts to flow and muscles grow and added strength is the result. Girls, on the other hand, don't get testosterone during their teenage years, but they do get estrogen. Estrogen tends to add fat rather than muscle-but that's not the real problem. The real problem is that estrogen also makes girl's ligaments lax-which accounts for both a greater degree of flexibility in women and a greater degree of injury. That's because lax ligaments can't absorb the impact of cutting and jumping sports (like football and b-ball and lacrosse). Even worse, especially in jumping sports, is a tendency among women (because of body design) to be more erect when they land, meaning there's less bend in hips and knees, so there's far greater impact.

When you couple these facts with the recent trend towards sports specialization and year-round playing schedules-which has nine and ten year old kids playing, say, soccer ten out of twelve months and six out of seven days-then you end up what has become a common sight in America: a team full of young girls all suffering severe injuries.

Sokolove's book (and the exhaustive research that went into it) proves one thing for sure-not talking about the differences between men and women's bodies for fear that those difference will be interpreted as signs of weakness has turned out to be a crippling mistake. Literally.

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