Usually when an 18-year-old wins the gold in the 800 meter run at the World Track and Field Championships, she is celebrated. When her mark of 1:55.45 is good for the fifth fastest women’s time in history, she becomes headline material.Caster Semenya is definitely headline material. But not for the right reasons.The South African teen can’t seem to catch a break. Instead of being asked about what it’s like to win gold in a major competition, she’s fielding questions about whether she just might be a he.It’s not just the fact that she already seems to be in position to break world records at age 18. No, it’s at least partly because, well, she looks like a man. In all honesty, she looks like she should be playing point guard for the Madison West boys’ basketball team, not running women’s track. Her facial hair, muscular build and deep voice are all decidedly unfeminine.That’s fine though. We’ve all seen women that at first don’t look especially womanly, and there’s nothing wrong with that — unless you’re one of the athletes that lost to Semenya in the 800 meter final. In that case, you complain and compel the IAAF to conduct a gender verification test on the winner.Aren’t we getting a little bit out of hand now?I’m not saying that I’m 100 percent sure Semenya is a woman. I do not know whether or not she’s been pumped full of enough testosterone to qualify as a male. But until there’s proof otherwise, her accomplishments should be praised. And therein lies the rub: getting that proof.Apparently, determining one’s gender isn’t as simple as having them drop their trousers and having a look-see. There are numerous “intersex” genetic conditions where people develop one way despite their chromosomes indicating something else. It’s all kinds of tricky to get a decisive result, but worst of all, it’s invasive and quite embarrassing. It’s hardly something you’d expect to have to go through after winning a gold medal.But that’s where we are in sports today. Hardly anyone can get away with achieving anything even remotely impressive without being questioned about it. The steroid era of baseball has made everyone at least a little cynical.Remember that season-long home run derby Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa put on in 1998? Everyone was enamored with the chase to break Roger Maris’ record of 61 home runs. In retrospect, it seems kind of silly, now that we know that the race was fueled as much by competitive desire as it was by needles.Fool me once, shame on you.Then we moved on to the BALCO scandal and the names on the Mitchell Report and even more heartbreak. Barry Bonds’ greatest enemy right now might be a potential asterisk and A-Roid found a way to make himself even more unlikable. The term “Manny being Manny” has taken on a new light and if Joe Mauer or Albert Pujols turn out to be juicers, then I might just give up on baseball altogether.Fool me twice, shame on me.It would be one thing if Semenya was accused of being on steroids. The potential effects of anabolic steroid use would account for her distinct “manliness.” As big a problem as steroids are in baseball, they have a more sinister history in track and field. But are we really that jaded now that we bypass steroid accusations altogether and question an athlete’s gender?Certainly steroids would be a more logical conclusion to jump to than gender dishonesty. Plenty of track athletes have been disgraced by their steroid use, including Justin Gatlin and Marion Jones. Semenya’s physique and sudden rise to success would seem to be a classic case of juicing, not a bad sequel to “Juwanna Man.”According to Britain’s Daily Telegraph, sources say Semenya has nearly three times the normal amount of testosterone for a female. Yes that’s fishy, but inconclusive either way. If somehow this battery of tests shows that Semenya is indeed a man, she would be disqualified from competition and stripped of her medals on the basis of her having an unfair biological advantage over her competitors due to her maleness?Guess what? Sports competition is based on unfair biological advantages. That’s why guys like Prince Fielder and Adrian Peterson are pro athletes, while I’m destined to only write about athletes. As fans, we constantly want to see someone faster, stronger and better than the last guy.Unfortunately, we’ve gotten to the point where we don’t want to be tricked into celebrating anything prematurely. The world is determined not to be fooled again. Apparently it’s better to disgrace the athlete now, before they break any records, than to realize we’re just going to be disappointed again.I’m as guilty as anyone of cynicism, but as far as I’m concerned, Semenya won the women’s 800 meters legitimately. I won’t yet stoop to assume the worst right away, but the world seems to be adhering to a quote by our last president: “Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.”Right?Adam Holt is a junior majoring in journalism. Think the scrutiny surrounding Semenya’s victory at the World Track and Field Championships is a legitimate concern? Send your thoughts to email@example.com.
In May, NASA announced via Twitter its plan to get astronauts back on the moon by 2024. For a four-year stretch beginning in 1969, the United States sent six manned missions to the moon and a total of 12 men walked on its surface. The last of these left the moon in December 1972 and no one has set foot there since. Going back now is about unfinished work; the plan is to make it so that people can stay on the moon and eventually get to Mars.On a recent Saturday in the visitors clubhouse at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago, a handful of Oakland Athletics players were bantering about the conspiracy theory that the moon landings were a hoax. Really, relief pitcher Chris Bassitt was doing most of the talking, playing the role of a skeptic. “Look at this,” he said, passing his phone to a teammate to show him a picture. “I don’t trust that thing to get me to Walmart.”MORE: Dodgers give rookie silent treatment after first two homersThe photo is of the Apollo Guidance Computer. It’s more than 1,000 times less powerful than the average iPhone, and Bassitt questioned whether it really could aid in a trip all the way to the moon. His phone made the rounds through the A’s clubhouse, most of them humoring Bassitt enough to keep the banter going. Bassitt might have been half-serious. The clubhouse was sleepy for a team that had just drubbed the White Sox 7-0 the night before. Maybe he just wanted to rile things up a little. Maybe the debate helps disguise the team’s feelings about a return trip to the postseason.Like NASA’s eventual Mars plans, the A’s have some unfinished business of their own.Last year, Oakland finished with 97 wins and a wild-card spot. Against the Yankees in the American League wild-card game in the Bronx, they went down 2-0 in the first inning, the experiment of using an opener and changing pitchers often throughout the game ostensibly failing on the way to a 7-2 loss. After an excellent regular season, they were one-and-done in the playoffs.The home crowd of almost 50,000 in New York that night was intense, and the pressure and excitement was harder for the Oakland players to bear because they hadn’t been in a game like that before.”It was just kind of overwhelming,” outfielder Khris Davis told Sporting News.But there’s a good chance they’ll be back to the wild-card game, and the question in the clubhouse is whether they’re in better shape to handle it. Right now, the A’s trail the Astros in their division by 10 games, but they’re only a couple of games out of the wild-card hunt. There’s a lot of season left, but Oakland could be making its third trip to the American League wild-card game in six seasons. In 2014, the A’s played the Royals in the one-game playoff and lost by one run, scored in the 12th inning. That year, they used the trade market to get pitchers Jon Lester and Jason Hammel, both of whom pitched in the wild-card game. Lester started and gave up six runs, and Hammel gave up the walk-off hit in the bottom of the 12th. Last season, the A’s used six pitchers in the wild-card game, three of whom aren’t on the 2019 team. The hope is that they have built the right roster combination this year to do more than lose a one-game playoff — to handle their unfinished business.”I think we took that experience and just kind of built some confidence knowing we could get to the playoffs,” Davis said. “And I think this year it’s more about getting deep into the playoffs. Maybe taking another step.”After last year’s run, the A’s let go of pitchers Jheurys Familia, Shawn Kelley and Fernando Rodney, and hitters Jonathan Lucroy and Jed Lowrie. In their place, they added shortstop Jurickson Profar, outfielder Robbie Grossman and relief pitcher Joakim Soria via trade and free agency during the winter. In July, they traded for starters Homer Bailey and Tanner Roark. And now they’ve reportedly signed Matt Harvey as well. It’s a revamped group that represents a shift away from the philosophy that came up short in 2018.”We know we have a deep lineup offensively, but the way we’re using the pitchers has been different,” infielder Marcus Semien said.MORE: As 2019 rookie hitters pile up numbers, a look at past classesThe A’s used an opener frequently late last season, but that practice has essentially gone away this year. With the starting rotation they have, it would be unlikely that they would turn to an opener again in a wild-card game.But even so, is this year’s team better equipped for the win-or-go-home playoff? That might have a lot to do with the intangibles the new players bring. Their postseason experience can help temper the anxieties of the other players who have not gone through a long postseason run. Almost all the guys signed during the offseason and traded for this summer have played through the postseason to some degree. Profar with the Rangers, Grossman with the Twins, Bailey with the Reds, Roark with the Nationals, and Harvey with the Mets. But the wild-card game is the antithesis of how the rest of the season is structured, when it’s all about winning one series at a time. The wild card gives teams one chance to advance. “It has added pressure because you know that one mistake may lead to the season being over instead of just a game being over,” Semien said. “So it’s the season, not the game.”There’s little to no margin for error, or at least the players can feel that way. Davis said that he and some of the others felt last year’s wild-card game going by too quickly, getting away from them before they could settle in.”Not having been there, that’s where the pressure came,” Davis said. “The intensity of every single pitch. Just knowing that it’s only one game added to that pressure. The intensity of Yankee Stadium was a tough place to play.”That’s a common refrain among A’s players. Semien agreed that playing in New York made things tougher. “The crowd was pretty hostile. [The Yankees] got out to a lead and they had the crowd behind them,” he said. “That stuff matters.”A couple of months before the last astronaut left the moon in 1972, the A’s won their first of three straight World Series championships. A feat matched or beaten by only the Yankees. As things stand now, the A’s have about six weeks to secure their return trip to the postseason and address their unfinished business and take the next step. The right roster moves have arguably been made, and now the hope in the Oakland clubhouse is that those are enough. And that some good fortune breaks their way.”It’s a crapshoot. You’ve just got to hope the good things happen on your side,” Davis said. “Baseball is so unpredictable.”