June Eastwood (copy)

Juniper Eastwood was the first transgender woman to compete in an NCAA Division I cross country meet last year for Montana.

BOZEMAN — Now that the Legislature has finalized its feverish effort to stem the mad tide of transgender athletes flocking to Montana’s sporting fields in vain attempts to win trophies and scholarships, I suggest a one-question pop quiz be given to each supporting lawmaker before the governor signs off.

Name three transgender athletes competing for Montana high schools or colleges.

Hell, name just one.

Just one, that is, other than former Montana cross country runner and culture-war lightning rod Juniper Eastwood, the target of HB 112, a.k.a. the euphemistic “Save Women’s Sports Act”.

Eastwood’s eligibility has expired and she has escaped into the woods to run trails, miles from what Cathryn Oakley, the state legislative director for the Human Rights Campaign, recently and aptly described as “discrimination and animus.”

Cue the Final Jeopardy theme.

A name? Just one name?

I didn’t think so.

Given the blank stares, I hope this frivolous and spiteful solution in search of a problem is worth it for proponents. Because the solution has found a problem, all right.

The NCAA announced Monday it "supports transgender student-athletes" and will only allow states that are "free of discrimination" to host championships. If you think the NCAA doesn’t have the claws for this fight, just ask North Carolina what happened when it waded into cancel culture waters.

Simply barring trans females from women’s bathrooms in 2016 cost Tar Heels at least $650 million and perhaps as much as $3 billion.

The immediate hand-wringing here revolves around postseason football games at Montana and Montana State, which are lucrative and festive late-autumn rites. Montana State Billings could feel the hurt as well.

Here’s what the NCAA, no bastion of enlightenment, clearly gets: Where it can’t use principle and humanity to sway states, it must wield the one club supporters of such bills seem to understand.

Money.

That’s how the NCAA hog-tied North Carolina into repealing its law and how it’ll get the 25-plus other states with cloned anti-trans bills to blink, too — if the courts don’t intervene first.

Money talks and you-know-what walks.

A similar misadventure was poised for a showdown last year in Idaho, which was on notice about hosting the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in Boise until a federal judge issued an injunction, saying the law was doomed to fail constitutionally. COVID-19 subsequently rendered the conversation moot.

It’s an unfortunate narrative, because money shouldn’t be the driving force here.

Principle and humanity should be.

Having a relative Native cultures would reverentially describe as a “two-spirit” — and yet who lost two dream jobs over it despite never flaunting it — I’ve seen the hardships trans people endure.

Suicide rates and depression are notably higher. Athletes face the further pain of isolation from competition and the social circles they identify with most.

Further, while the science isn’t settled, and we can debate day and night about any advantages transgender females might have with, say, height and bone structure, most doctors who study the subject agree competitors have no lasting benefits.

Eastwood didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to switch genders to win footraces.

She took testosterone-suppression medications for a year as part of her transition for her final season at UM. The result was enough reduced muscle mass and endurance to satisfy the NCAA.

Given all this knowledge, especially the lack of any substantive imprint on women’s sports, you have to wonder: Why? Who really believes legions of athletes will undergo such physical and emotional upheaval simply to win a few medals and scholarships?

You'd assume with the recent legislative fervor that trans athletes have suddenly burst onto the sporting scene. In fact, the NCAA, U.S. Olympic Committee and Paralympic Committee have long recognized the rights and dignity of trans athletes who meet their competition guidelines, to little more than a shrug from cisgender rivals.

I highly doubt any of those governing bodies want to “destroy women’s sports”, as hyperbolic anti-trans bill proponents decry as our destiny.

No, this is about posturing and pandering amid an ever-widening culture war. Consider the haste with which Whitefish lawmaker John Fuller sped HB 112 to the fore, prioritizing it over the state’s ongoing economic and pandemic pains.

So now we’ll find out if the potential loss of NCAA dollars spooks Gov. Greg Gianforte the way it did South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem. Fearing the NCAA's club, she preemptively vetoed her state’s solution in search of a problem before walking an awkward tightrope by issuing an executive order with a similar ban.

As in Montana, you won’t find any South Dakota legislators who can name trans athletes either. Here’s why: Their high school association says there aren't any.

Some HB 112 proponents might cite CeCe Telfer, a transgender woman who made history when she won the NCAA Division II 400-meter hurdles for Franklin Pierce University in 2019.

What they won’t say, because they don’t know this either, is some 150-200 transgender athletes are competing on NCAA teams with neither a gold medal to their names nor the slightest fuss surrounding their games.

In Montana, this is a non-starter — at least between the lines.

With that in mind, here’s a second one-question pop quiz the governor should ask before signing off on HB 112: What two public Montana universities could find themselves without home playoff football games and their communities losing millions of dollars annually for the foreseeable future because the Legislature was hellbent on fixing what ain’t broke?

No need to cue the Final Jeopardy theme on this one.

Say this for our lawmakers, though: When they go searching for a problem, they sure know how to create one.

406mtsports.com executive sports editor Jeff Welsch can be reached at jeff.welsch@406mtsports.com or 406-670-3849. Follow him on Twitter at @406sportswelsch

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