The Eck’s Factor: Sports says it all: We can do no right

Last week, the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing — undercut by a fair amount of controversy, faltering athletes, the United States’ diplomatic boycott on China and a doping scandal — concluded. At the center of its controversy, 15-year-old Russian figure skating prodigy Kamila Valieva tested positive for a banned substance at a competition in December. The International Olympics Committee still allowed her to compete, but she finished a surprising fourth. 

These events, along with the recent Super Bowl, delineate a rather cynical pedagogy: No matter what we do, whether it involves transgender athletes or liking Taylor Swift as much as men like football, we can only do wrong. 

In Beijing, news surfaced of Valieva’s positive test for the banned, endurance-increasing heart medication, trimetazidine, from the sample she submitted after the Russian National Championship on Dec. 25. Considered a “protected athlete” under the World Anti-Doping Agency, Valieva still competed in the individual women’s figure skating competition. 

In her hearings, Valieva and her representatives claimed she may have accidentally ingested her grandfather’s heart medication, but according to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart, its high concentration was “clearly not trace amounts.” Additionally, she takes two other heart medications — L-carnitine and Hypoxen — which further suggests the three medications were intended to enhance her sports performance instead of treating her heart “variations,” as her mother stated.

This is not to say that Valieva is to blame for the doping as it was her coaches and parents who were supposed to protect her. Of course, her coach’s nickname is “Cruella de Vil” because she is notorious for her harsh and, well, cruel training methods.  

It might be even more infuriating that the Court of Arbitration for Sport cited “irreparable harm” from not competing as a reason to allow Valieva to still skate. Indeed, Sha’Carri Richardson wanted a word. Last summer, Richardson earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic team, and then she tested positive for THC, a non-performance-enhancing banned substance. She took to Twitter to denounce the IOC, writing, “The only difference I see is I’m a black young lady.”

Again, we see an all-too-familiar double standard: A Black woman tests positive for marijuana and gets held to a higher standard than the white people with a history of systemic doping. Destroying the Black person’s career is justice, but destroying the white person’s career could cause “irreparable damage” — sound familiar? 

Amid the doping controversy at the Olympics, we can see another victim besides the athletes competing against Valieva: transgender athletes, specifically transgender women. The transgender athlete controversy seems evergreen at this point. Earlier this month, however, Lia Thomas, a transgender swimmer at the University of Pennsylvania, occupied right-leaning news outlets’ reporting after 16 of her teammates published an anonymous letter criticizing her “unfair advantage.”  

Transgender women are all-too-often the scapegoat for reconciling our twisted social constructions. We apparently cannot allow transgender women to use the women’s bathroom because men could weaponize it as an excuse to enter women’s bathrooms. According to Texas Governor Greg Abbott, gender-affirming care for transgender youth is “child abuse.”

Last I checked, men will commit sexual assault whether or not transgender women can use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity. Transphobia and denying essential care to transgender youth is child abuse. 

We also apparently cannot allow transgender women athletes to compete against cis women because they take away opportunities from “real” women in a society that dichotomizes gender and sex, leaving those who do not fit the binary in the margins. 

Interestingly enough, no one has a problem with superhuman cis athletes such as Katie Ledecky and Michael Phelps, who also take away opportunities to break records and win from their fellow competitors when they earn gold medals and break world records. Phelps himself, ironically, has condemned transgender women competing in sports. 

Phelps’ comments epitomize the men responsible for these double standards within women’s sports. Transphobia and policing women’s bodies — while its perpetuity is not exclusive to just men — stem from patriarchal standards that confine women to a submissive societal place and negatively react when someone traverses said place. Simone Biles’ backlash for prioritizing her mental health came from co-opting the toxic masculinity that encourages recklessness and violence over safety. 

This heteronormative principle coexists with misogyny. It is why men can act like badgers fighting over a carcass and we accept it as “just men being men” but when women and teenage girls act passionate or excited about anything — Taylor Swift, Rupi Kaur, Justin Bieber — we call them annoying and belittle them. 

In a world where we can do no right, I propose the following: Athletes cannot compete unless they are negative for performance-enhancing substances: We let Fox News exhaust themselves until they fall asleep from reciting J.K. Rowling’s “TERF Wars,” and then, we hang a transgender flag in Tucker Carlson’s set and finally, NFL allows JoJo Siwa to perform at the Pepsi Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show next year. It’s the least they can do. 

Matthew Eck is a senior writing about hot-button social issues. His column “The Eck’s Factor” runs every other Wednesday. He is also the Wellness & Community Outreach Director at the Daily Trojan.