This story will likely cause powerful, emotional reactions from several different directions. It involves a 50-year-old father and Desert Storm veteran who wants to play college basketball again.
Before you answer the question about a college allowing someone more than twice the age of the average player to compete, realize that this person has likely just become the first to play competitive collegiate sports as a man and a woman.
You read that correctly.
This is the story of Robert Ludwig, now Gabrielle Ludwig, a 50-year-old recent sex change operation recipient who is now playing for the women’s basketball team of Mission College in Santa Clara, Calif.
After her procedure this past summer, Ludwig petitioned the court for a new birth certificate that would designate her sex as “female.” On Nov. 30, a judge awarded her the new birth certificate and in the eyes of the government, Robert Ludwig is now officially Gabrielle Ludwig.
That one piece of paper opened doors for Ludwig. However, there were concerns that her previous time as a college player might be a problem. Back in 1980, then-Robert Ludwig played for Nassau Community College and the bylaws of the Community College Athletic Association only permit a player to participate for two years. But the athletic association decided to reinstate Ludwig’s full eligibility, based on the fact that he was now legally a “she” and deserved the full two years of permitted playing time with her new gender.
With all of the legal hurdles cleared, Gabrielle Ludwig on Dec. 4 stepped down from her position as assistant to the coach of the Mission College Saints, to #42, a member of the team.
Coach Corey Cafferata met his new player a year ago when Ludwig was coaching a youth league team that played in the Mission College gym. They talked about the possibility of finding a spot on the roster and stayed in touch. But Cafferata also told the Associated Press that Gabrielle was not given a guarantee that she would make the team:
“Gabrielle has earned a spot on this team,” he said. “She practices hard. She runs hard. She is no different from anyone on the team — she is a great, coachable player.”
“Coachable” or not, Ludwig’s presence on the court has brought controversy.
Outsports.com reported that an ESPN radio affiliate recently suspended two announcers for on-air comments made about the situation. Steve Czaban and Andy Pollin of ESPN 980 are currently benched after referring to Gabrielle as “it” and also making remarks about her appearance. The statement from the station:
We strongly believe two of our employees crossed the line when discussing a transsexual person on their program last Thursday. Such intolerance and insensitivity will never be tolerated by this company. Due to the nature of their conversation, the pair have been temporarily removed from ESPN980′s Sports Reporter program.
Listen to the audio from ESPN 980 that triggered the suspension:
There have also been mixed reactions from fans in the stands. Some have issues with the gender reassignment topic, others with her size, and still others with her age. However, Dale Murray, the commissioner of the conference told EdgeBoston.com that her age was likely to work against Gabrielle:
“She just happens to be a bit taller than everyone else,” he said. “What if she was born a female and six-feet five-inches? She’s a little older than other community college players, so that’s probably to her disadvantage.”
Ludwig is not immune to the complaints and controversy, and just last week she gathered the Saints together and offered to quit. The Chicago Sun Times reports that the team rejected that offer. In fact, it appears to have unified them. Says teammate Amy Woo:
“We all love her. If someone is going to talk against her, they are talking against all of us because it’s like she is part of a family.”
Lest you think this is the first time a transgendered person has played college sports, it has happened before. In Sacramento, the Cosumnes River College women’s team had a transgendered player on their squad for an entire season, and little was said or written about it.
Pro sports have a 35-year history with topic of transgendered athletes. Back in the mid-70s, another veteran of the U.S. Military, Dr. Richard Raskind underwent a sex change and became Renee Richards. An excellent tennis player with professional aspirations, Richards was denied entry into the U.S. Open tournament and took her case to the New York Supreme Court. In 1977, Richards won the suit and was allowed to play professionally.
Last year, Renee Richards talked with ESPN TV about the acceptance of transgendered athletes and fairness of allowing men who become women to compete in women’s sports:
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