In Response to: Princeton Athletics

Princeton athletic director John Mack ’00 announced he is appointing an associate director of athletics for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), who will collaborate with Princeton’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion and Campus Life.

I was taken aback by this announcement and fear for the unintended consequences of these well-meaning efforts with regard to athletics. My concerns stem from a lifelong involvement with athletics, including scholastic and collegiate competition, advocacy for wrestling through the Friends of Princeton Wrestling, and promotion and protection of athletics participation as a founder and officer of the American Sports Council.

As these new and institutionalized efforts develop, I have concern over the direction that the athletic department is taking, sectionalized in three areas:

1. Nearly 30 years ago the Department of Athletics discontinued varsity wrestling. There was a listing of reasons stated for this decision, but, as leader of the Friends of Princeton Wrestling’s effort to have the University reverse the decision, I came to find that a principal reason was in reaction to the governing Title IX policies of the USDOE Office of Civil Rights as they relate to gender participation. The proportionality prong was, and is, enforced as a gender quota, which substitutes equal outcomes, or equity, over equal opportunity. Equity in athletics is impossible to achieve, given human differences, and employing equity in the Athletic Department will prove to result in destructive and polarizing policies that favor some groups over others. I see this particularly problematic in the case of men’s sports, most notably men’s contact sports, where women are greatly underrepresented (and in sports such as football, nonexistent).

2. A corollary to the traditional Title IX enforcement policies deals with transgender athletes. I refer to the ongoing saga of Penn’s Ivy League swimming champion who has been the target of what some would characterize as transphobic rhetoric. Yet female athletes around the country are having to compete against athletes who were born biologically male, who are setting records, winning competitions, and taking slots and success away from athletes who were born biologically female. The ACLU has argued in court that prohibiting transgender women from competing against biological women would violate the equity requirements of Title IX. (By the way, the term “equity” is not included in Title IX the law.) Despite that this might provide legal justification for athletics as we know them, if females are forced to compete with and against biological males, they will lose their opportunities to succeed and play. I see the diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts being undertaken by Princeton Athletics as playing into the hands of a greater effort for equal treatment of trans female athletes and biological female athletes. As one who has been actively involved in creating opportunities for women in wrestling and other nonrevenue sports, I find this to be particularly troublesome. I can’t imagine, yet fear, the day when a Princeton woman is compelled to wrestle competitively against a trans biological male. It simply wouldn’t be a level playing field.

3. Competitive athletics is a bastion of meritocracy. Success of the individual is blind to race, national origin, economic background, etc. Not being a minority I will never grasp or fully appreciate how Black athletes have had to respond to negativity or racism. I suppose there may be some at Princeton who have some level of racism or intolerance, but I’ve never seen it and like most alumni am color blind (except for orange and black). Choosing a team whose makeup has been influenced by DEI rather than totally on merit and who is best to fill the spot is unimaginable to me. A coach recruiting for a team cannot worry about diversity but about who can play the game competitively and have a reasonable chance for admission. Princeton should be seeking the best performing, not the most diverse, collection of athletes.

The University’s decision to go down the DEI road in the athletic department is unnecessary and for me deeply troubling, and I hope that Mr. Mack will reconsider this misguided path.

H. Clay McEldowney ’69
Williamsburg, Va.