Recently, I have heard the critique offered that running is not and should not be political. Fresh off the completion of my 252-mile relay to Washington, D.C. to raise funds for Planned Parenthood, this assertion has plagued me the most. Many have said that running and sports should remain outside of politics. However, this line of thinking is particularly insidious and harmful because it essentially rewrites history and denies the struggles marginalized people, including women, have faced to be allowed to participate in sports.
In 2016, as women we may take for granted that we are able to participate in marathons and often make up over 50 percent of the field but, no too long ago, many thought we were incapable of doing so and that are uterus might even fall out. Sports have been political since the beginning of time and, if we ignore that fact, we do much more harm than good.
I have compiled a short list of just a few of the many ways that sports have been and continue to be political.
Fifty years ago, Kathrine Switzer was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon as a numbered entry; it had been an all-male event for 70 years. She faced discrimination and the race director even tried to pull her out of the race. A common assumption at the time was that women were physiologically incapable of endurance running.
Title IX of the Education Amendments Act was enacted. The Amendment states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Since Title IX, there has been real growth in the number of women who participate in sports, receive scholarships, and benefit from increased budgets. However, there is still much work to be done as girls and women still receive less opportunities to participate in sports in school and their teams are often given lower budgets.
Saudi Arabia allowed the first female athletes to compete in the Olympics; female athletes still face massive discrimination within their homeland.
Simone Manuel became the first African-American female swimmer to win Olympic Gold in an individual event.
This list goes on and on. Sports are political because they are, of course, a reflection of our society; this is actually the key reason that sports are so powerful. I am honored to run the Boston Marathon this year as part of an all-female team who will be running in honor of Kathrine Switzer’s legacy. While I did not technically BQ, I believe that my participation in the race as a platform for women’s rights is just as, if not more, important.
As Nelson Mandela once famously said: “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.”