Two high schools, Mesa Prepatory Academy and Our Lady of Sorrows, were set to play the Arizona Charter Athletic Association championship baseball game on Thursday. That is, until Our Lady of Sorrows forfeited the game because Mesa Prep’s second baseman, 15 year-old Paige Sultzbach, is a girl.
According to ESPN, the aptly named Our Lady of Sorrows is “run by the U.S. branch of the Society of Saint Pius X. The group represents conservative, traditional priests who broke from the Catholic Church in the 1980s” after disagreeing with then-recent reforms enacted by the Vatican. The school does not allow co-ed sports, because “proper boundaries can only be respected with difficulty” under those circumstances (er…are they worried that the players will have pre-marital sex on the base path?) and because “Our school aims to instill in our boys a profound respect for women and girls.”
Apparently, the two schools had played each other twice during the regular season (OLS lost both times), and out of respect for the school’s policy, Sultzbach had sat out those games. But–duh–she wasn’t going to sit out the championship game of their undefeated season, and so Our Lady of Sorrows forfeited.
According to the Tucson Citizen, Sultzbach told the paper “I felt like any passionate athletic person would feel. I don’t want our very first high school baseball team to win the championship on a forfeit.” Mesa Prep’s athletic director, Amy Arnold, also expressed disappointment, saying “I respect their views, but it’s a bit out of the 18th century. What true athlete would want to win or lose a championship game by forfeit?” But Sultzbach’s mother hit the nail on the head, in my opinion, when she first took the story public: “This is not a contact sport, it shouldn’t be an issue. It wasn’t that they were afraid they were going to hurt or injure her, it’s that a girl’s place is not on a field.”
With the 40th anniversary of the passage of Title IX just weeks away, it bears repeating that affording girls an equal opportunity to compete in sports has made and will continue to make an immense, positive difference in the lives of women and girls and on sports as a whole in this country. You can’t instill respect for women by limiting their abilities make choices for themselves and restricting their access to spheres of public life. Keeping a person from competing in a sport simply because of that person’s sex is straight up sexism, I don’t care what the reason.
Enough is enough already with discriminating against women and having it be okay because it’s for “religious” reasons. Our Lady of Sorrows can of course believe whatever they want, but when it affects people who don’t subscribe to their viewpoints or, even more importantly, have not chosen to enroll in the school and thus avail themselves of the school’s policies, that’s when sexism disguised as religion goes too far.
Fortunately, this story has gotten national news coverage on ESPN, Fox News, NBC Sports, Huffington Post, Think Progress and Yahoo! Sports, as well as many local news outlets across the country, so at least there seems to be a consensus of outrage. And most importantly, I hope this consensus shows Sultzbach that she is not an outsider to baseball and gives her courage to keep forging ahead and competing in a male-dominated activity.