Right to try

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(Host) These past few weeks have been exciting for women in sports, and commentator Cheryl Hanna shares some thoughts about what all the hype might mean.

(Hanna) It was a thrill to watch Sarah Fisher start up her engines at the Indianapolis 500 recently. Women have been racing in the event for 26 years now, but still, there’s just something special about knowing she’s on the track.

Now, golf has been slower than race car driving to accept women into its ranks – so when Annika Sorenstam became the first woman to tee-off in the Colonial Men’s Golf Tournament, many marked it as a major event.

And we could see our own battle of sexes here in Vermont soon. The Burlington Free Press recently reported that there’s nothing to stop women from playing in the Vermont Amateur golf tournament this year. It suggested that someone like Libby Smith – the Essex Junction golf star who’s played against boys in both high school and at UVM – could be the first woman to enter that tournament. Smith says she’s not likely to do so this year. But she’s welcome to.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to see women compete against their brothers on tracks and courses that, in the not too distant past, were “men only.” Some say what Sorenstam and Fisher and other women want is the right to play – to have a guaranteed spot in the line up, even if they’re not as good as the men. And a lot of players are tee’d off by that idea, so to speak. But that’s not it at all.

It’s about the “Right to Try.” The Right to Try is a phrase I first came across in a 1983 Missouri case in which Nicole Force wanted to try out for the boy’s eighth grade football team. Nicole certainly had no entitlement to a starting position, but that wasn’t what she wanted. Judge Roberts held, “She seeks simply a chance, like her male counterparts, to display those abilities. She asks, in short, only the right to try. I do not suggest that there is any such thing as a constitutional right to try. But the idea that one should be allowed to try – to succeed or fail as one’s abilities and fortunes may dictate, but in the process at least to profit by those things which are learned by trying – is a concept deeply engrained in our way of thinking.”

I just love that quote because it sums up what sports, and indeed, what life, is really all about. I’d love to see Libby Smith play the Vermont Amateur – not to prove anything, or even to win, but to do so just because she can. As Jim Basset, the executive director of the Vermont Golf Association is quoted as saying, “There’s nothing in our rules that says she can’t try.”

This is Cheryl Hanna.

Cheryl Hanna is a professor at Vermont Law School in South Royalton, Vermont.

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