The topic of women in athletics continues to be an ongoing controversy in America and all over the world. Even though progress has been made, there are still clear differences in the treatment of women in sports versus men. However, with the constant discussion about the gender differences between men and women, is society overlooking the obvious differences and discrimination against older people in sports? Do people ever stop to think about the cultural norms attached to being “Over the Hill?”
After reading Ariel Levy’s article “Either/Or,” I gained a better understanding of the nature of gender norms and sex and the resulting barriers to participation in sports due to these norms. Historically, men have been thought to be generally more athletic than women and more fit to participate in sports (see Title IX). There used to be institutional barriers to participation in which women were simply not allowed to participate in specific sports. Society has since made progress in attempting to eliminate most, but not all, of these institutional barriers. However, there are still value barriers that make it difficult for women to engage in certain sports due to societal norms and cultural beliefs. Some value barriers present false beliefs about the competence of women such as sexist comments like “girls can’t throw” and “women should wear dresses.” Other value barriers follow the assumption that because women participate in something, it makes that institution inferior.
Similar to the gender norms attached to men and women, there are certain assumptions made about those who are young versus those who are older. In the New York Time’s article, “Over the Hill, and Beyond it,” Jeré Longman writes about his experience as a 60 year old man who completed the New York City Marathon. With a finishing time of 4:44:53, he achieved one
of his greatest accomplishments in his life. With that said, running the marathon at the age of 60 is no easy task neither physically nor emotionally. Running can be extremely difficult on a person’s body and additionally, older people are viewed as unfit to run such long distances. In his article, Longman quotes a fellow runner when he writes, “’As we age, we get fewer sporting opportunities to compete against others.’” Competitive sports are just not as prevalent to those who are of old age. People see older men as weaker and less capable than their younger counterparts, therefore they aren’t presented with as many opportunities to compete. There are various “value barriers” that make it difficult for older men and women to participate in certain athletic events. In this case, there are value barriers surrounding older people that discourage them from running marathons because people believe that they aren’t capable of running such a great distance. Let’s be honest, nobody is going to pay to watch a team of 60-year-old men play basketball against each other, just as people don’t feel the need to watch older men run in a marathon. Just because a person is old, people assume that they are less able to compete in athletics.
However, this article proves that the value barriers surrounding older people and their athletic ability are invalid. Longman, at 60 years old, was able to successfully complete the New York City Marathon. While it is true that not all 60 year old men are capable of running a marathon, it is also true that the majority of men in their twenties cannot run a marathon either. Athletic excellence should not be blocked by a preconceived notion that people of a certain age or gender are less competent than others. But rather, athleticism should be measured by ability and talent.