Once upon a time women had finally had enough of the bullshit. That’s what it was too, lifetimes of being brutalized, being cheated, being told they were neither good enough nor smart enough to compete with men. They were paid less for sometimes even working harder than men and, most significantly for the highly ambitious woman, they were frequently kept out of the most important discussions because men wrote them off as “too emotional,” those same men who cried or shouted when their favorite teams won or lost; those same men who were prone to violent rages and hopeless depression when things did not go their way. Hell, it had been just over one hundred years since women were even allowed to vote, and with all the predatory sexual violence dating back to the Stone Age, women felt it was time to truly assert themselves and let the patriarchy know that the future was going to be a whole new world.
Sara Michard was the greatest athlete everyone in her home town of Waterloo, Iowa had ever seen. Ever since she was eight years old, her older brother Kevin then ten, she had been playing baseball. Not softball–baseball. She was a pitcher and she played shortstop. She quickly advanced to be on her brother’s team. Sara humiliated him (or so Kevin believed) because she was so much better than he was.
In the league Sara was the best hitter, she threw the hardest, she was a spectacular fielder and faster than everyone (within a few years she would star on the track team as well). Many of her teammates loved Sara, seeing in her a prodigy that could lead them to championships. They dreamed of playing on the fields in Cooperstown, in the Little League World Series, and they figured that with Sara on the mound there was no one who could beat them.
But even more people resented Sara, the offended parties more often than not being the parents who wanted their own children to be the shining lights on the field. Parents would boo the young girl when she was pitching or batting. One time someone even threw a can of soda at her (this person was removed from the stands by the umpire, who also resented the girl because he felt her presence made his job harder). Sara seemed to understand, however. She grew to be a student of history, fascinated by the groundbreaking athletes who had helped inspire change in America. She would smile when they booed her, sometimes wave. One time, when a particularly virulent mother shrieked that Jesus said girls shouldn’t be allowed to play against boys, Sara threw a high and inside fastball harder than she ever had before, terrifying the woman’s mostly talentless child, who screamed at her, and then stormed off the field crying, vowing to never play the game again.
Sara dealt with this prejudice all throughout her childhood. She started playing basketball when she was twelve, and soon elevated her school’s girl team to the state championship (they won the final game 60-14, Sara scoring 36). The following year the coach of the boy’s team arranged to have her join his squad.
The first few practices with the boys were rough, renewed resentment causing them to treat her particularly poorly. This was a problem for them more so than her. By the age of fifteen Sara was nearly six feet tall and stronger than just about everyone she knew. When they shoved her or elbowed her Sara merely shook it off and swished her two free throws. She was even better at basketball than baseball, and her teammates, who soon embraced her as their star, began telling her that she was a shoo in for the WNBA.
And yet Sara remained unsatisfied. She loved the competition, loved playing all the sports (her room at home had overflowed into an entire cabinet in the downstairs living room, filled with trophies from a variety of other sports too: golf, tennis, archery, and gymnastics. Sara had been training at a Ninja Warrior gym too, lately, and had won a first place ribbon in a youth contest, beating her nearest rival by almost thirty seconds through the course). But her favorite–Sara’s absolute favorite sport, the one she had been watching on television and live with her father since she was two years old, continued to be considered off-limits. Sara loved football. She did not see why she shouldn’t have a chance to play that too.
The day came, when Sara was a junior in High School, that the football team’s bus en route to an away game slid on a sheet of ice and slammed into the guard rail on the highway, tipping over. Seven players were seriously injured. One of them died. The coach of the team–a seriously good one, genuinely in competition for a national championship–was devastated. He needed to keep his team in the public spotlight for anything other than the tragedy. He needed a positive spin, or at least a controversial one. He went to Sara’s house and begged her parents to let her play.
The only objection at home came from Kevin, since grown into a sullen young man, barely passing his two classes at community college, having given up on all ambition other than getting high. Sara’s mother was openly not happy about the plan (although deep down she was happier than anyone, closet feminist that she was). Her father was thrilled. Everything about his daughter made him proud. And since his son had proven to be such a disappointment, Sara was clearly his favorite. He had attended nearly every game and competition she had ever been involved with (including junior high spelling bees, none of which she ever won). She was his joy, the only member of his family he loved any longer. Anything she wanted she could have.
The first time Sara showed up on the practice field she was greeted almost exclusively with scowls. The coach, too, began to regret his decision, seeing the effect her presence was having on the rest of the team. And while he shouted and berated them about Sara being there, and talked about the importance of teamwork like he always did, a secret part of him was hoping that she would fail and he could simply call the season lost.
On the first play (Sara was playing Tight End), a huge boy playing defensive end plowed into her and crushed her to the ground. He kept his full weight on her for a few additional seconds and spit into her face “Get off the field, cunt,” he before getting up and slapping two of his teammates hands.
Sara slowly got up and shook herself off. The coach raced up and put his arm on her back and asked her a panicked “Are you okay?” Sara brushed the hand off and returned to the line. On the next play she held the boy who’d tried to hurt her off the quarterback, who threw a touchdown to the star wide receiver. The rest of the practice continued in a similar manner, Sara catching two passes for twenty-three yards, and running a punt return more than forty yards down the field. She seemed to be excellent at defense and, despite the fact that several of the larger boys were able to knock her down or swat her aside pretty easily, Sara was tough and very resilient. She was a far better athlete than most of the boys on the team and the coach wound up being impressed and satisfied that she was a fine addition to the team.
In the third game Sara played a nearly mindless, steroid infused boy decided to tackle her on a play she was not really involved with. This boy was almost three hundred pounds, fat, sure, but incredibly strong. He actually lifted her up over his head and slammed her down to the ground as hard as he could. Then he kicked her and stomped on her. He broke her left shoulder and then intentionally crushed her knee. He sneered at her, saying “You don’t belong here.” Nearly every member on his team laughed. Nearly half on her own team were also laughing. The coach on the other team was laughing (he had instructed the boy to hurt Sara). Much of the crowd was either laughing or gaping in horror at what had happened to the “poor little girl.” A wave of conversation spread through the crowd repeating “This is why girls and boys shouldn’t play against each other.”
It took a long time for Sara to recover, and she would never be as fast as she’d once been, but her natural gifts helped her to resume her athletic excellence. She did not play football any longer (this was not her choice, but her doctor’s, who refused to sign off that she was physically eligible. Two members of the city council, both of them old men and both of whom had been laughing in the stands over her injury, had either bribed or blackmailed the doctor into this decision). She resumed basketball, returning to the boy’s team, and she was quickly offered a scholarship to the University of Connecticut, where she starred for three years, leading the team to two NCAA titles. When the WNBA finally did come calling she turned them down flat. “No,” Sara Michard told the recruiters, “I want to play in the NBA.”
As doubtful as most executives were, Sara had grown legendary in the sports world. A frequent profile subject on ESPN, and the story of her assault on the football field something that had gained national attention, General Managers of some of the less successful teams believed that having a girl on the roster might boost ticket sales and would allow them to go down in history as the first professional sports team to break the gender barrier.
Sara whizzed through the D-League, simply too good of a shot to be restrained. And while several of the larger guys would step on her feet, shove her, or elbow her savagely, the atmosphere of the professional basketball surprised her. The men were far more accepting of her presence than any other sport she had ever played. The men seemed to realize and accept her talent. They knew that she was going to be the most famous woman in the world very soon. All of her teammates rooted her on and were thrilled when she finally got the call to join the big team.
Her first game was uneventful. She played for only four minutes, during garbage time, the team down by thirty points. She took two shots, missed them both, and fouled the third string point guard she found herself up against.
Sara accepted the fact that she was not going to be in the starting line-up any time soon, and felt safe around her teammates, who all seemed to want to protect her. Most of them teased her in the locker room, called her a “fine piece of ass” as she unashamedly changed in front of them. She smiled at them and laughed with them, but remained more focused on work than even the most dedicated superstar on the team. By her sixth game she was up to twenty minutes, and had proven to be an excellent passer with remarkable on court intelligence. This of course made Sara a target to many of her unwilling competitors. One man, a back-up center named George Shakhovsky on the Memphis Grizzlies, decided that he needed to make a point to the world. Fans had started to embrace Sara, seeing that she was honestly good enough to be playing with the men. It was going to become the norm. Other teams–even George’s own!–had started sending scouts out to watch the top female college players. Things were changing too much for this giant from Russia, and he could not stand the swirling of so-called gender-equality taking over the world. His six year old son–George’s own son George Junior!–had told him the other day that he was really a girl and that he wanted to be known as Georgiana. His mother had even bought him a dress!
George blamed Sara for all of this. She was the central figure fucking up the world, he told several of his teammates in a rage before the game. Most of them either nodded halfheartedly or simply walked away. And while some of them mostly agreed with him, they could not quite muster the same anger that their seven foot, three hundred pound big man had.
Out on the floor George made it a point to cover Sara. He would violently swat the ball out of her hand. He slapped her to the floor, tumbling over her with his knee bent, aiming for her chest. He said some of the same things Sara remembered from the other times she faced off with people like him. She was most reminded of the football player in high school. She called him an asshole and kneed him in the balls.
After the game (Sara had scored seventeen, notched five rebounds and eight assists), George, who had fouled out in the third quarter, stomped over to her and told Sara that he was going to rape her. This took her aback. No one had ever even thought about trying such a thing with her, much less said it aloud. But there he was, a towering figure, and he had threatened her in the most intimate way. George then grabbed her hand and started rubbing it against his cock through his shorts. “Yeah, you want this too, don’t you you fucking slut?” Sara recoiled and raced away.
In many of the arenas away from home, the opposing teams mandated that Sara have a separate locker room. They insisted she needed a private place to change. There in Tennessee it had been made into a law, more in an effort to forestall the rise of transgender rights than having anything to do with basketball. It was known that several state senators had declared that Sara could not possibly be an actual female, but was some sort of “Faggot Frankenstein monster.” And so the segregation of her from the rest of her team that night after the game allowed what happened to finally happen.
George shoved his way into the room while Sara was in the shower and locked the door. He took off his clothes and sprayed some lotion into his palm. He got himself hard and then walked into the stall. Sara had just turned the water off and when she turned around and faced him, her eyes grew wide and her pupils shrank to pinpoints of fear.
Without saying anything George grabbed Sara by the head and cracked it against the tile before she could even scream. He had his way with her, and then again, knocking her out twice more, until blood was dripping from her head and she wasn’t waking up any longer as he stabbed himself inside her.
Sara did not wake up for three days after that, and her brain had been so greatly rattled that she honestly could not remember what happened. She could feel the pain all throughout her body, and she realized she had been raped, but she did not remember by whom. The commissioner of the NBA (along with the President of the United States) both repeated the claim that “this is why women and men are kept apart on the field of play.” And for the first time in her life, Sara started to agree with this.
The rape, the traumatic brain injury, changed Sara’s personality entirely. She immediately retired from sports, putting that old way of life behind her. She started going back to church, where she soon became born again. After this, whenever someone announced her as “the first woman in the NBA,” she scoffed and turned it into a mantra that it had been “the worst decision of my life.” She even went so far as to blame herself, like her pastor had right to her face in a public prayer session at the super church, claiming that she should have expected such a thing to happen, that men and women were not equal. Sara even got married and decided to have children, also renouncing her formerly lesbian inclinations.
She would live the rest of her life as an advocate for stay-at-home mothers and “a return to better time, when men were men, and women were women, and everyone knew their place.” And on the day when she was considered for the NBA Hall of Fame because of her remarkable historical accomplishment, protests from the left, more than the same misogynistic blather that had haunted her for her entire life, rose up to keep her out. She was called a hypocrite, a “Sister Thomasine,” and was screamed at by many angry people, both hating women and hating men. There was no dominant politics among this scorn.
And yet Sara merely smiled at all of this. She had finally decided what her true place in the world was. She nodded with firm conviction. She truly meant what she said next, although she was fully aware just how much it would bother them. She said “I’ll pray for you,” and then returned home to her mansion to watch old videos of herself on TV.
©2019, 2020 Lance Polin