Cox: Parents speculating on high school student-athlete’s gender ‘disturbing’
Rules over high school sports need to be fair and followed by all competitors, Cox said. ‘Making up allegations’ about a competitor’s gender is ‘pretty disturbing to me’
Reacting to reports that parents called for an investigation into the gender of a competitor in a girls’ state-level competition this past year, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox called the conduct “disturbing” and asked for grace.
“We’re living in this world where we’ve become sore losers and you know, we’re looking for any reason to figure out why our kid lost,” said Cox on Thursday during the governor’s monthly PBS Utah press conference.
In a briefing on HB11 during a meeting of the Utah Legislature’s Education Interim Committee on Wednesday, legislators were told that after one competitor “outclassed” the rest of the field in a girls’ state-level competition last year, the parents of the competitors who placed second and third lodged a complaint with the Utah High School Activities Association calling into question the winner’s gender.
“I don’t know all the details other than what was shared there, but I just wish we can be a little more thoughtful in life and a little less critical of other people,” Cox said.
David Spatafore, the UHSAA’s legislative representative, said the association — without informing the student or family members about the inquiry — asked the student’s school to investigate. The school examined the student-athlete’s school enrollment records going back to kindergarten, which stated she was female.
Spatafore did not reveal the sport, the classification of play nor the school the student attended to protect the student-athlete’s identity.
This was not the only such complaint the association has received, Spatafore said. Others claimed “that female athlete doesn’t look feminine enough.”
Cox said parents can become deeply invested in their children’s athletic pursuits.
“There are unreasonable parents everywhere, always. It’s from Little League to college sports and professional sports,” he said.
The governor admitted that he had yelled at referees at his children’s sporting events “and I’ve been a ref who parents have yelled at. We get really involved in our kids, as we should, but sometimes that can go a little too far,” he said.
Nationally, there have been threats of violence against referees in many sports, he said.
“We’ve seen some very poor sportsmanship. Usually it’s the parents and not the kids. We’ve seen some great examples of sportsmanship such as the Little League World Series this year and in other places. I just think we would all be a little better off if we would take a step back and give a little more grace in these (situations),” he said.
Spatafore told lawmakers that the state activities association, the overseer of interscholastic competitions in Utah, takes parents’ complaints seriously and follows up on them with the student athletes’ schools.
Cox said he did not know any more details about the parents’ complaints aside from what was shared in the committee meeting.
“There has to be fairness in the way that we administer the rules and everyone has to follow the rules. But making up allegations like that are pretty disturbing to me. And I would certainly hope that we don’t have any of that in the future,” he said.
HB11, sponsored by Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, which established a ban on transgender girls from competing in female school sports, was passed during the final hours of 2022 general session.
In the event of a lawsuit, however, the bill defaults to a commission that would evaluate transgender students’ eligibility to play.
Cox vetoed the legislation ,but the Utah Legislature met in special session to override his veto. It did on votes largely along party lines.
In May, ACLU of Utah and other advocacy groups filed a lawsuit on behalf of two transgender girls who attend public schools challenging the Utah law, alleging it is discriminatory and unconstitutional.
Third District Judge Keith Kelly is considering whether to issue an injunction that would temporarily halt enforcement of the law.