Sports: No apology needed as nonbinary Aggie recognized


Sports: No apology needed as nonbinary Aggie recognized

Accompanied by a unique “editor’s note,” UC Davis Athletics this week reissued a press release about Aggie soccer player Hailey Rittershofer being chosen as one of eight Big West Conference nominees for the NCAA Woman of Year Award.

Written by Eric Bankston, the school’s veteran assistant athletics director for athletics communications and public relations, the piece noted that the department “would like to apologize for using the incorrect pronouns in the original version of this release.”

Bankston went on to say, “Although Hailey is nonbinary, they accepted this nomination because of their lifelong participation in women’s sports. Athletics would like to thank Hailey for their help in updating this announcement, creating an opportunity for growth and education for everyone.”

I’m not so sure it’s necessary for Bankston to apologize. And UC Davis is to be applauded for recognizing the choice of Rittershofer.

The Associated Press Style Guide, the bible for press types throughout the land, has addressed the declaration and use of people, they and them for those who identify as nonbinary.

Said the AP: “People are nonbinary if their gender identity is not strictly male or female. Nonbinary is not synonymous with transgender.” The book goes on to instruct writers to “explain the term (nonbinary) in a story if the context doesn’t make it clear.”

The Davis Enterprise published the original UCD story, using the school’s offer of traditional pronouns of she and her in telling of Rittershofer’s selection to compete for the nationwide honor.

After the story appeared in our newspaper’s Wednesday edition, I got call from Bankston — who subsequently had been made aware of the Aggie soccer star’s choice. Bankston indicated that a “corrected” version was on its way.

As a courtesy, and out of respect for Rittershofer, I replaced the original version on Thursday morning.

The Associated Press, back in March of 2017, weighed in on gender-neutral pronouns. The Enterprise embraces AP style, being sensitive in our coverage to the use of such identification when we are aware of the preferences that folks choose.

Often, however, we don’t know of such a preference and discover it once a story is published. That’s what happened with Bankston this week. And I suspect that we and other newspapers that subscribe to using suggested nonbinary pronouns will be hard-pressed to remember which people we’re covering had identified as such in previous coverage.

The Style Guide formerly forbade the use of they as a singular pronoun. Example given: “If the driver isn’t careful, they might get into an accident.” Despite use in everyday speech, AP editors considered the practice incorrect.

But now the writers’ bible is permitting the use of singular they for people of nonbinary gender — and we’ll commit to keeping up with the times.

The Style Guide now reads:

“In stories about people who identify as neither male nor female or ask not to be referred to as he/she/him/her: Use the person’s name in place of a pronoun, or otherwise reword the sentence, whenever possible. If the they/them/their use is essential, explain in the text that the person prefers a gender-neutral pronoun. Be sure that the phrasing does not imply more than one person.”

AP editors consider this is a major sign of progress, “both for LGBTQ+ rights and for linguistics. Grammar mavens have resisted singular they for centuries. It takes a lot to change their minds.”

Rittershofer, a senior biomechanical engineering major, said in the Aggies’ latest release: “I am grateful that UC Davis Athletics nominated me for this award. Although I am nonbinary, and do not identify as a woman, I have played for and grown within women’s sports — particularly soccer — my entire life.

“I am appreciative of the acceptance and steps being made by UC Davis Athletics for transgender and nonbinary athlete inclusion in sports, and hope to see the NCAA adopt more all-gender sports so athletes of all identities can be their full selves on and off the pitch,” the San Diego native added.

— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or call 530-320-4456. Follow Gallaudet on Twitter: @BGsportsinDavis

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