To sum up, I’m disappointed this took so long.
It’s been nine-plus months since the Menlo Park Parks & Recreation Commission to stomp on the civil rights of a then eight-year-old girl.
You may remember that last December, against the objection of many, the Commission denied third-grader Linnea Lindblom the right to play city organized basketball against boys her age.
In so doing the city made the case that allowing her to play would . Somehow the Commission felt it needed a bit more time to discuss... what exactly? Was it a safety issue? An insurance concern? Was someone on the Commission not comfortable with the possibility that their son might get beaten on the basketball court by a girl?
Who’s to say what they were thinking. The public perception of the Commission after its decision to not let Lindblom play was, These people are ill-equipped to deal with the issue. Commissioner Andrew Kirkpatrick confirmed the perception when he said, “Exceptions send a bad message to community, and city staff, and are really unfair.”
To which the Lindblom family might have replied, “No, it’s the rule that is unfair!”
Keeping an open mind
Under public pressure Kirkpatrick and the Commission agreed to review the gender rule. Unfortunately they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) do so in a timely manner, and young Lindblom missed the opportunity to play co-ed city basketball this past season.
But, true to its word, the Commission reviewed the case. And last week, it changed its ruling. In what must have been a humbling experience, the Commission issued this statement:
“The City of Menlo Park Youth Basketball League allows females to opt-in to a boys team and males to opt-in to a girls team for all grade levels. School coordinators must use the roster form provided and continue to ensure balanced teams across the league with rosters that promote the recreational, inclusive and positive values of the program. Girls and boys may still play up a grade level within their gender if their skill level is appropriate.”
After botching the initial decision and wasting nine months debating the merits of co-ed basketball, the Commission’s statement was brief, straight from Legal via Marketing, and meaningless as a vehicle to express why it’s never OK to deny someone the right to participate based on gender, race or socio-economic background.
Why couldn’t the Commission have used its decision as a platform to make a broader point about discrimination? I find the Commission’s comments about being “inclusive” and the importance of “positive values” to be condescending. You can’t tell me that, after it took nine months to make a decision that should have been obvious from day one. So much for values.
Had any sincerity or thoughtfulness gone into the Commission’s decision, it might have said:
“First, we made a huge mistake in December. Lindblom should’ve been allowed to play in the boys league, we apologize to her and her parents, and we promise to learn from our mistakes. Second, we’re embarrassed it took nine months to resolve this issue. Government decisions always take too long, but this was over-the-top and we’re sorry. We will try our best to implement a more efficient city government going forward.”
The Commissioner would then have gone on to say:
“Most importantly, we hope our decision today, to allow co-ed basketball teams, will serve as a reminder to parks and recreation departments, cities and states everywhere, that discrimination in any form is just plain wrong. I take full responsibility for screwing this up in the first place. There are no excuses; I won’t even try. Reasonable people don’t want to be bothered.”
This is how the city could have laid things out. It could have made a strong statement about the need to avoid getting bogged down in government bureaucracy, and the Commissioner should have taken responsibility for not making the correct decision as soon as the matter arose.
In the end, it seems, the Commission came to see things as the majority of Menlo Park residents do. The Commission did, in fact, solicit public opinion on the matter. I completed a survey in my son’s school newsletter about the issue, and I’m quite sure the Commission wouldn’t have changed its mind unless the results of that survey heavily favored a rule change.
The rule, by the way, was overturned by a landslide. The Commission’s vote was five to nothing, a nearly a 180 degree turnaround from last year, when the Commission voted 5-1 the other way. I guess politicians can be taught.
Clearly they got the message that, the only thing worse than making a dumb decision is making it twice.