Are elite male sports actually "open" competitions?

Are the elite male competitions in major professional sports generally fully “open” or do they have rules saying they are open only for men? I could see it being either way - maybe the rules are gendered, or maybe the rules say nothing and it just works out (as a matter of practice) that such competitions end up being male dominated.

I guess it could vary from sport to sport and there is no pattern, but I’d then be interested in what the answer is for various sports.

I put this here rather than in the Games Room or GD because I am just looking for the factual answer about what the rules say. My question is prompted by me seeing a debate on related subjects but needless to say this is not the place for debate.

Manon Rhéaume was signed by the Tampa Bay Lightning as a goalie and played in a handful of preseason games in 1992 and 1993. Ultimately, she remained only in the minor leagues.

The NFL invited Lauren Silberman to a regional combine (not the big one in Indianapolis) as a place kicker. She was given a shot but not signed.

A few women have played in Minor League Baseball but none in the majors.

I believe rings, parallel bars, pommel horse, and horizontal bar are men only gymnastics by rule at least in the Olympics, but am not sure about that. I don’t know of any other sports where women are excluded from competing against men.

And these examples didn’t involve rule changes or exceptions?

Didn’t Babe Didrickson play in a couple of Open golf tournaments with no rule changes needed?

No female has ever been signed in the NFL. However, there is nothing in the rules against it. I poked around a bit online and the general consensus is that the position of kicker is the most likely to be filled first by a female player.

There is also no requirement in the NBA that players be male. In 1969, a woman named Denise Long was drafted by the Warriors. Unfortunately, other franchises voided the pick, mostly because of her gender, despite their being no rule against female players. In 1977 a woman named Lusia Harris was drafted by the New Orleans Jazz. To date, she is the only female player to be drafted into the NBA. She was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992.

I know you’re looking for rules, but it’s easier to identify women who have succeeded at the elite level and infer that the rules allow it (or were changed to allow it) in these sports. These are all at elite level.


And several others:

And I think you must count this one:

Danica has a truly impressive record to be sure, but the first woman to compete in NASCAR races happened in the 1940s. Danica wasn’t exactly a trail blazer in that respect, though to be fair it still is very much a male dominated sport and Danica did face a lot of pushback due to her gender.

This article has a lot of good info:

This article is mostly opinion, but it does bring up some interesting points:

There are always going to be gender, racial, religious, sexual-orientation etc. prejudices everywhere you go. Nevertheless, elite male sports are as close to a pure meritocracy as you can find.

If you have great hands, run a 3.9 in the forty-yard dash, have impeccable route-running and a higher vertical leap than anyone, then any NFL head coach would be a fool not to sign you as a wide receiver just because you’re Arab/a woman/atheist/albino/Muslim/gay/whatever. It would be his loss, and at least some of the other 31 head coaches would be bound to be interested in what you could do for their team.

Your arguments are true of team sports. But the opposite is true of individual sports. No individual competitor has any selfish interest in widening the field, and for macho men the prospect of being beaten by a woman isn’t going to be an appealing one.

However, I think governing bodies and broadcasters (i.e. advertisers) are usually going to favor admitting as diverse a field as possible.

While none have yet made it to the NFL, a number of them (mostly kickers) have played in college ball (several of them in Division I), and a few have played in lower-level professional leagues, as per the lists in this Wikipedia article. (In 2015, I worked several games as the scoreboard operator and assistant statkeeper for the Chicago Blitz of the American Indoor Football league; their kicker, Julie Harshbarger, was the league’s special-teams player of the year.)

Horse racing is one sport where women are able to compete with men on their own merits. Years ago, female jockeys were a novelty, now it is common to see several in a race. Last year I saw a country meeting where every winner was ridden by a female rider. Most runners in each race one. Leading Melbourne jockey Jamie Kah is long odds on to win another premiership. I have been following the races for a long time and she is simply one of the best that I have ever seen.

In addition to Harris:

  • Ann Meyers signed a contract with the Indiana Pacers in 1980, and participated in several days of tryouts, but did not make the team.
  • Nancy Lieberman played for the Los Angeles Lakers’ “summer team” in 1981, then played two seasons (1986 and 1987) with the United States Basketball League, a “developmental” men’s basketball league.

Are there any examples of elite male athletes seeking to exclude women from eligibility?

In general it does not seem that individual competitors have much influence on rules governing eligibility.

I really don’t want this to creep over into a debate, or into a discussion about what (non-rule) forces (social, physical etc) stand in non-males’ way, or what coaches or other players might want. I was really just interested in whether by the rules, elite “men’s” events are technically and legally just “open” events, albeit that it is only ever men that enter.

Many of the sports so far are sports where there has never been much of a segregated tradition.

Anyone know what the rules position is for say golf or tennis or Olympic track events, where there is a history of strong but separate men’s and women’s competitions?

Yes, women have played on the men’s PGA tour. There are no rules in place prohibiting them.

The most important “rule” in professional sports is, “Win!”, and owners will sign anyone they think will help them do it.

Unfortunately, as the old saying goes, “size matters”, and men generally have significantly more size and strength than their female counterparts. I adore football and, thanks to my dad and my brother, I have a pretty sophisticated understanding of the game. Unfortunately, I don’t have the physical requirements necessary to compete with the gridiron warriors I’d be facing. A massive defensive lineman or linebacker would run right over me or, better yet, he could save energy by simply picking me up and hurling me like a missile at the quarterback. Ow!

Not only horse racing, but also dressing, jumping and military. As long as I can remember (I’m 54) there have been women competing in these categories and often winning Olympic competitions and other international championships.

Men and women directly compete in trailrunning and ultramarathoning. Their results are divided into men’s and women’s fields, but runners of both sexes are on the same course at the same time. And the final results are given both as the runner’s place within his or her field, and overall. In general, of course, men are faster than the women, but that’s only looking at the sexes in aggregate; there are plenty of speedy women who beat the majority of men. Out of a field of 208 runners in the 2021 Western States Endurance Run, three of the top 10, and nine of the top 20 overall finishers, were women.

And there’s no rule saying male and female horses can’t run in the same race.

True, but they don’t carry the same weight. A colt in the Kentucky Derby carries 126 pounds. A filly carries 121. While it might be possible for a filly or mare to carry more or the same weight than a colt or horse, it would require conditions that make up for the baseline weight difference.