Should a boy be permitted to play on a girls’ field hockey team?

Keeling Pilaro is a 13-year old boy who grew up playing field hockey in Ireland. He is now being told that, after two years of playing on a girls’ high school team following his family’s move to New York, he will not be allowed to compete next year due to his gender. There are no boys’ field hockey teams in the area, leading Pilaro to seek an exemption under Title IX allowing him to play alongside girls.

From NBC:

An appeals committee said it looked only at his skills, not size or strength, when upholding the decision to keep him off the field. That raises a question of discrimination.

Keeling is 4’8″, weighs in at 82 pounds and, according to those who wish to see him play, there are girls in the league with skills superior to his (although he did have ten goals and eight assists this past season). Asked about the situation, he expressed frustration, saying “I don’t really care if I’m on a boys’ team or a girls’ team, I just want to play.”

Along with his teammates, the local school district supports Keeling’s desire to play. But state law allows administrators to bar boys from girls’ athletics if a boy’s participation “would have a significant adverse effect” on girls’ opportunities to compete. This clause raises a few highly problematic questions:

Where should the line be drawn regarding a boy’s skill level? Skill level is a subjective measure; it’s a bold claim to say that Keeling is good to the point of discrimination.

What is a “significant adverse effect” on girls’ opportunities? Keeling is preventing, at most, one girl from playing on the team (assuming the coach makes cuts, which is not always the case at the high school level); does this adverse effect rise to the level of significant? If it does:

How bad would he have to be in order to play? Do boys have to be below average in skill to be allowed to play? Does they have to ride the bench so they don’t take playing time away from girls? Do they have to be the worst players on the team so they don’t take spots on the roster away?

What if a girl took a spot away from a boy? In the absence of their own teams, girls are granted Title IX exemptions to play football and wrestle on a regular basis. Surely if a girl beat out a boy for a spot on the football team the state would let her play. Moreover, the state’s decision to let her play would be based on the fact that she wouldn’t have the opportunity to play elsewhere, as is the case in this situation.

Keeling Pilaro doesn’t want an unfair advantage, he just wants a chance to play. Since he doesn’t have an opportunity to compete in a boys’ league, his only option is to play on the girls’ team. Equality means equality, regardless of the direction in which that equality flows. The State of New York should recognize this and let Keeling Pilaro remain on the team he has been playing for the past two years.


Jon Green is a graduate of Kenyon College with a degree in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. A veteran of the campaigns of Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and President Obama in 2012, he writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @JonGreen8, and on Google+. .

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