One of my favorite books on the subject is "Playing With The Boys. Why Separate Is Not Equal In Sports" by Eileen McDonagh and Laura Pappano. If you haven't read it, do! Especially if you love sports. It covers Little League's history, from its inception as a male institution going back to 1925 and as the ONLY youth sports group to operate under a federal charter (granted in 1964) to 1950 when Kathryn Johnson was the first girl to break the all-boy rule by trying out and earning her spot pretending to be a boy. She told her coach she was really a girl after she made it in and he said if she was good enough to play, she was good enough to play. (Go Coach!). The League, however, was not so enlightened as a corporate whole and added a clarification to its rules that "girls are not eligible under any conditions" in 1951.
Mo'ne is not the first fabulous girl ball player. In May 1963, an 8-year-old girl playing on an all boy team (as a pitcher, too) in NJ made Life Magazine for her pitching skills. And so on and so on. The difference between the talented boys and the talented girls was (and in many cases still is) that the boys are encouraged and pushed and the girls are discouraged and held back in sports. And so it was with Little League. One of the first state lawsuits happened in Michigan in 1973 on behalf on center fielder Carolyn King. Little League threatened to revoke her team's charter if they didn't kick her off for the sin of being female. There were many talented athletic girls throughout the 70's fighting for a place on teams that welcomed their brothers with open arms - Maria Pepe, Sharon Poole and on and on. In one court case, Little League witnesses argued girls were intrinsically too weak to play and would be injured by the boys, that playing ball would be "socially damaging" for girls, and that, physically, girls were inferior to boys and thus should not be allowed to play. State civil rights examiner Sylvia Pressler said, "The sooner little boys begin to realize that little girls are equal and that there will be many opportunities for a boy to be bested by a girl, the closer they will be to better mental health."
I am nowhere near a professional athlete but I love to box and run and train. I hate it when trainers will say things like, "Oh, there a lot of men here. I wish I'd brought heavier weights." I will promptly take the heaviest weights and try to outdo every male in there just to make a statement (and, frankly, since I'm only competing against the average US male gym-goer, it's not too hard). In Beverly Hills, I took a boxing class that was pretty much all men and me. On Pressler's point about mental health, I found the vast majority of the guys were skilled, strong, athletic, and perfectly gender neutral and nice to me - meaning they treated me the same as everyone else. They shared a bag with me, would spar with me, would fight me, and they respected me if I was good. Same as for any guy. The few guys that judged me - the ones that rolled their eyes if they were told to spar with me or asked if I could "handle" it if they punched "full strength" when we were on a bag together were, for the most part, insecure in their own skills, strength and endurance. It made them feel good to think that somehow their gender innately made them superior to me because they intrinsically felt they were somehow sub-par. I've found that extends to many aspects of life - in the business and social world. People that are decent, smart and confident people will judge you as you are. People who feel inferior or insecure will quickly rush to judgment to try to place themselves ahead of someone else based on some immutable characteristic.
Sometimes, I am sad thinking we haven't come that far and it's 2014 and why are we moving so slowly, on the gender equality front? Other times, I think we've accomplished a lot. I guess it's probably a combination of both. To all the guys (and girls) I trained with who nicknamed me "The Beast" and who fought me as hard as they could and who were just relaxed, fun, nice people, thanks! And to Sylvia Pressler, yup! Sylvia, I agree with you. Mo'ne, you're awesome. I hope that we as a society recognize that separate is not equal in sports and that gender discrimination has no place in any arena. So, maybe one day, I won't be ecstatic over the fact a girl pitcher on an all-boy team is on the cover of ESPN. I'll be admiring that a 13-year-old pitcher has a 70 mph fast ball and I won't give a second thought to the pitcher's gender as I admire the skills and athletic prowess the pitcher is exhibiting.