First published in Mormon Women's Forum, vol. 4 no. 3 (1993)

Imagine, if you will, a basketball team with both men and women listed on the official roster. Some of the women are naturally athletic and talented and have diligently practiced and memorized the game plan. Indeed, the coaches and managers have encouraged the women to develop their playing skills as much as possible. Consequently, some women play as well as the best men. At game time, however, the team managers—all male—allow only men on the court. The managers tell the women that it is much more important for them to be cheerleaders than it is to be players. (The managers even pick some women to be the head cheerleaders, but the managers still have to approve the cheerleading routines.)

When some women complain that they don't like cheer-leading and would much rather play, they are told various things: "basketball has always been a men's game"; "you are naturally suited to be cheerleaders, not players"; "we don't want you to get injured out there on the basketball court"; "you play far better than the men so the men really need to have the time on the court." If some women ask why they were encouraged to develop their playing skills if they weren't going to be able to use them, or if they still insist they could be of more value to the team by playing rather than cheerleading, the managers tell them that "you will be better able to train the next generation of basketball players," or "what you're saying is that you really don't like basketball," or "you don't really want to be on this team."

If the women have the audacity to ask the team managers if they've asked what the team owner thinks about the way they're running the game, they are accused of trying to undermine team morale, of really being "for" the other team. (Some women who like cheerleading accuse the women who want to play of wanting to force all women to play. And of course, men who don't want to play or would rather lead cheers don't fare well either.) Many cheerleaders and male players are quick to come to the managers' defense and say that "of course the managers have consulted with the team owner—it's the owner's team, isn't it?" But the managers themselves never answer the question directly, so the women who want to play still don't know if the managers have ever asked, or if the owner really is responsible for their not being allowed to play. As these women continue to ask, the managers will occasionally instruct some of the male players and coaches to escort the "uncooperative" women out of the playing arena, take back their uniforms and equipment, and scratch their names from the roster entirely.

The game is not yet over, and the other team is making points. When the other team gets too far ahead, perhaps the managers really will think to ask the owner if it's okay to use some of the team's best players on court, even if they are women. Or maybe the owner, having been directly informed about what's going on by those who don't think the policies are fair or in the team's best interests, will finally have to intervene directly by retiring some of the most closed-minded managers, or by sending a memo.

Is this any way to run a basketball team?