“Little League is a very good thing because it keeps the parents off the streets,” Yogi Berra is reported to have quipped. Few things are as quintessentially American as the Little League World Series. In 1939, Little League baseball had its inaugural season, and in 1947, the Little League Board of Directors began a national tournament that would come to be known as the Little League World Series. The Little League World Series displays the national pastime in its most innocent form. The widespread interest in the LLWS reveals the game of baseball remains deeply embedded in the national conscience.
This year's LLWS star is undoubtedly Mo’ne Davis, star pitcher of the Taney Dragons from Philadelphia. The 4 foot 11 inch, 84 pound Mo’ne is 13-years-old and throws a fastball that has the equivalent velocity of a 90 mph Major League fastball. Mo’ne is also a girl, which makes the sensational story all the more compelling. She is only the fourth American girl to play in the LLWS and she says baseball is not even her favorite sport—basketball is. The reported crowd for one of the games she pitched at the LLWS was 34,128. Her performance has been so captivating that she was featured on the cover of the iconic sports magazine Sports Illustrated. On top of it all, she has been poised and irresistibly charming in the face of all the attention.
Knowing my love of all things baseball, I was recently asked what I think about Mo’ne Davis playing in the LLWS against boys. My immediate response was, “It’s great. She has been amazing.” But, I also felt compelled to add, “But I would not allow my daughters that age to compete in sports against boys.”
I certainly do not think a case can be made that it is inherently wrong or sinful for a 13-year-old girl to compete against boys in baseball. Of course, if it were a combat sport like wrestling, boxing, or football that would be an entirely different matter. But as a Christian father in a world of gender confusion and chaos, my wife and I think it would be at odds with what we desire to cultivate in our sons (we have 3) and daughters (we have 5) to have them formally compete against the opposite gender beyond childhood.
We believe that all people, male and female, are created in the image of God. Men and women are divinely designed gendered image bearers. It is our gendered humanity that images God in the world (Gen 1:27). Our sexual distinctiveness reveals to us something important about God’s nature. In our attempt to teach our sons and daughters a healthy biblical sexuality, we want to celebrate and champion God’s design in their distinctive masculinity and femininity. We desire for them to think about male and female relationships as complimentary and not competitive. We do not want our daughters thinking in terms of being able to do anything a boy can do. And we want our boys to think in terms of fighting for girls and not competing against them (1 Cor 11:8-10, 1 Pet 3:7).
Masculinity and femininity are to be surrendered to God for his glory and not measured in competition with one another. The wonderful contrast and compliment of male and female in the world teaches us about God and should evoke our worship of God. The desire in our family is to delight in and nurture the uniqueness of God’s design in a culture that seeks to minimize it.
Downplaying or ignoring the differences in male and female liberates no one. Telling a woman to measure her worth by how well she can compete against men is demeaning to her femininity. So, while boys and girls can both learn a lot from sports, my wife and I think its best for our sons and daughters to compete against their own gender (especially at adolescence and beyond). Sports are simply one tool we attempt to utilize toward the goal of cultivating our sons and daughters into Christ-exalting men and women.
G.K. Chesterton wrote a short poem entitled “Comparisons” that reveals the folly of those who would claim that acknowledging gender differences necessarily means inequality.
If I set the sun beside the moon,
And if I set the land beside the sea,
And if I set the town beside the country,
And if I set the man beside the woman,
I suppose some fool would talk about one being better.
I hope we will celebrate Mo’ne as a courageous and poised young woman who had an amazing LLWS that she will remember the rest of her life. Her effort, humility, and poise have already been an inspiration to many and she possesses many traits I hope my daughters will emulate. It would be tragic if we create a cultural narrative that defines her success by whether or not she goes on to play high school, college, or professional baseball. Mo’ne has been described as “A Women Among Boys” (NY Times, Scott Cacciola, Aug 20, 2014) at the LLWS but I wish we would just let her be a remarkable young woman.