Image showing gender symbol. © Nevit Dilmen [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], from Wikimedia Commons.
Image showing gender symbol. © Nevit Dilmen [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], from Wikimedia Commons.

Gender in Sports, with Joanna Harper

Image Credit: © Nevit Dilmen [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], from Wikimedia Commons.
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About This Episode

How does gender impact sport? Is our sporting society ready for change as the conversation and understanding of gender constructs become more complex? On this episode of Playing with Science, hosts Gary O’Reilly and Chuck Nice investigate the complex role of gender in sports alongside neuroscientist and StarTalk All-Stars host Heather Berlin, PhD, and Joanna Harper, medical physicist, endurance runner, and the only person in history to publish a peer-reviewed article on the performance of transgender athletes. Before we dive into the complexities of gender’s role in sports, Heather first helps us establish a baseline understanding about the nuances of gender. You’ll hear how the biological interpretations of gender and the societal interpretations of gender coincide in sports. We discuss the differences, if any, in male and female brains and if there is any difference on a cellular, chemical level. You’ll learn how gender segregation from a young age can exacerbate societal patterns of gender separation in sports. We discuss current and historical issues that transgender and intersex athletes have faced over the years. You’ll find out about the process in which the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the International Association of Athletes Federations (IAAF), and the NCAA create guidelines on determining which athletes can compete in certain male and female sports. Joanna offers up an alternative determination process based on different bio-markers, as opposed to the current tests which revolve around testing testosterone levels. You’ll discover more about the long history between intersex athletes and the Olympics. Explore the controversial IAAF ruling that will require athletes with higher levels of testosterone competing in women’s running events to be subject to medical treatment that will lower the amount of testosterone in their bodies. All that, plus, we ponder why LeBron James and other ultra-athletic athletes aren’t put into their own elite categories of competition if they have unfair advantages. 

NOTE: All-Access subscribers can watch or listen to this entire episode commercial-free here: Gender in Sports, with Joanna Harper.

In This Episode

  • Host

    Gary O'Reilly

    Gary O'Reilly
    Broadcaster, Sports Analyst, Former professional footballer
  • Host

    Chuck Nice

    Chuck Nice
  • Guest

    Heather Berlin

    Heather Berlin, PhD
    All-Stars host, Neuroscientist, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at The Ican School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, NY
  • Guest

    Joanna Harper

    Joanna Harper
    Medical Physicist, Endurance Athlete

Episode Topics

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