A trivia question for you: Who today is the leading jockey who was born in the U.S.?
The answer is Rosie Napravnik. Yes, of all our American jockeys, the one with the best record is a woman.
Napravnik's mounts have earned more than $11 million this year, and none of the seven jocks who have earned more began life in this country. So, even in a dangerously athletic job like race-riding, a woman can sometimes compete straight up with men.
But at the same time that Napravnik was riding the 2-year-old champion, Shanghai Bobby, to a stirring victory in the Breeders Cup Juvenile, the top coach in women's basketball — who happens not to be a woman — was proposing that the baskets be lowered by 7 inches in the women's game as compensation, so that the shorter ladies could play against each other more like the taller gentlemen do.
Actually, Geno Auriemma, the UConn coach who led the American team to an Olympic gold this summer, is really not suggesting anything radical in the matter of cross-gender games. Already, women play with a smaller basketball than do men. The net in women's volleyball is lower. On the golf course, women hit from tees more forward. The games are the same. There is simply the recognition that men and women aren't, and in most sports some dimensions should be varied to accommodate le difference.
Now, this doesn't mean that never the twain should meet. Remember a few years ago, when Annika Sorenstam, the peerless golfer, was allowed to play in a PGA tournament against the men? Wasn't that a lot of fun? What a bunch of spoilsports are the International Ski Federation poo-bahs for not letting Lindsay Vonn go swooshing downhill against the men in just one lousy race.
But then, what's sauce for the gander can also be sauce for the goose. A lot of women who celebrate the equal athletic opportunity that Title IX provides simply don't like it that the new coach of the U.S. women's soccer team is a man, Tom Sermanni. You could call that carping reverse sexism, but, of course, it's also the case that no woman has ever been selected to coach a major men's team.
It's also true that for whatever symbolism might be negatively evoked in the selection of a man to coach the best women, maybe female fans should pay more attention to gritty substance. Too many women support women's soccer only once every four summers, when it's the national team in the glamorous Olympics. Two American women's pro soccer leagues have failed. Tennis, the most popular women's sport, has lost its major sponsor, Sony Ericsson, and is desperately seeking another.
But still, in what is mostly a man's world at the racetrack, it is Rosie Napravnik who has that mount on Shanghai Bobby, the winter-book favorite for the Kentucky Derby next May. Now wouldn't that be something? A Rosie winning the Run for the Roses.