A handful of speakers and influencers at last week's annual espnW: Women + Sports Summit were asked about female athletes being compared to male athletes or trying to compete in men's sports.
Every last one of them said the key to success is avoiding comparisons to men and instead promoting women's sports as a different -- but just as competitive -- exciting and entertaining product. While I agree with their argument on the whole, I can see why the occasional exception is worth pushing for.
Lindsey Vonn has been so dominant in women's skiing, a race against the men may be the only way to truly push herself to the next level. If racing against the best competition out there makes Vonn better and faster, her star will continue to grow, even when she's back in the women's races.
When a dominant female gets a chance to compete with the guys, media and fans pay a lot more attention (see: Anika Sorenstam, Danica Patrick, even Shannon Eastin, the first female to ref a regular-season NFL game). The publicity push would be great for Vonn's brand, but it would also benefit the sport itself. People who watch just to see the "Battle of the Sexes" aspect may decide they like the sport and tune in the next time around, as well.
Only the very best can benefit from a chance to compete with the guys, and it shouldn't be done on a whim or too often. The very best women should want to consistently dominant women's leagues, not struggle to see the field in men's leagues. The focus needs to be on making women's leagues as competitive and compelling as possible, so they can stand alone, but if every once in a while a truly special woman wants to test her mettle against the men, I say let her give it a shot.