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Teenage transgender wrestling champion Mack Beggs is a living embodiment of courage

03.02.17 at 3:10 pm ET
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The word “courageous” gets tossed around carelessly these days. But in a sports context, it’s difficult to think of somebody who fits the word better than Mack Beggs, the 17-year-old transgender Texas state girls’ wrestling champion.

Beggs, who identifies as male, wasn’t permitted to wrestle boys this year. The University Interscholastic League, which oversees athletics in Texas public schools, says students’ genders must be based off their birth certificates. So Beggs was forced to wrestle girls. He went 56-0 this season and knocked off Chelsea Sanchez for the 110-pound weight class title last weekend. When the Euless Trinity junior’s hand was raised in victory, he was greeted with an impassioned mix of boos and cheers.

“I just heard the boos, but I heard more cheering,” Beggs told ESPN Wednesday. “Honestly, I was like, ‘You know what? Boo all you want, because you’re just hating. You hating ain’t going to get me and you nowhere, and I’m just going to keep on doing what I’ve got to do.’

Many of Beggs’ detractors, including WEEI’s Gerry Callahan, say he shouldn’t have been allowed to compete at all.

“Sometimes you’re not allowed to do what you want to do,” Callahan told me on the radio this week. “It’s totally unfair to ask a boy to make a move –– a lot moves go right to the crotch. You want a boy doing that to a girl?”

It wasn’t Beggs’ choice to wrestle in the girls’ division. His attorney says he wanted to face boys, but was rebuffed. At that moment, he was faced with a choice: stop wrestling because of who he is, or keep pressing forward. Beggs chose the latter, and says he was faced with taunts throughout the entirety of the season. He was called “”f—-t” and “it,” with some opponents declining to step onto the mat with him. One of his friends’ fathers even sued him, saying he will bring “imminent threat of bodily harm” to the girls he’s competing against.

That’s a lot of trouble to go through just to wrestle. People who suggest Beggs, or other student-athletes in his position, change their gender identities to gain a competitive advantage are out of their minds. Beggs just wants to embrace who he is.

“You just have to stay strong,” he said. “There’s going to be sucky days. There is going to be sucky days, believe me. … There’s always going to be another day. There’s always going to be another week. You’ve just got to keep on rolling.”

It’s understandable why some parents are apprehensive about their daughters facing Beggs, who’s been taking testosterone injections in order to expedite his transition from female-to-male. But the fault here lies with the UIL, which prohibits Beggs from competing against other males. Irate parents should take their complaints to the state. It’s not Beggs’ responsibility to worry about the comfort of his opponents. He must do what’s best for him.

Transgender kids are some of the most vulnerable people in the U.S. More than 80 percent of transgender students say they feel threatened at school, and 41 percent of transgender people say they’ve tried to commit suicide at least once in their lives. The suicide attempt rate of the overall U.S. population is 4.6 percent.

In his interview with ESPN, Beggs said he thought about taking his own life when he was in seventh grade. By refusing to cower to social pressure, he may now be a role model to other transgender kids who are entertaining those same dark thoughts. Thanks to the Trump administration’s decision to overturn federal protections for transgender students, a simple act like going to the bathroom could now be a traumatizing experience for some. Imagine living in a world where you’re perceived as such an outcast, that performing even a basic bodily function could invite scorn and ridicule. It’s important for the marginalized to see others who stand up against adversity, and raise their hands high –– just like Beggs.

Today, only 16 states and the District of Columbia permit transgender student-athletes to compete based on their gender identity sans medical intervention. Seven states require an amended birth certificate or proof of medical action, such as surgery or hormones. In Texas, birth certificates can only be changed with a court order. It’s an expensive and arduous process, meant to make it difficult for transgender people to be who they are.

After going through this season, perhaps Beggs will serve as a trailblazer when it comes to transgender rights in the athletic community. It’s his most consequential fight yet.