The world is raving about the recent phenom Lia Thomas. Although she is not the first transgender athlete, her debut and success has sparked debate among the athletic community.
In March, ESPN as well as other media outlets reported on Thomas becoming the first transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division I national championship title. After winning the 500-yard freestyle at the NCAA Women’s Championships, she received praise and opposition.
Over the past few days, I’ve seen posts and articles from both sides of the spectrum. Athletes, mothers, fathers, students, nurses, doctors, psychologists, you name it, it seems like everyone has an opinion about this topic.
Whether that be opposition or praise, as a collegiate female athlete, I think it’s important we discuss topics like this because that is how change begins.
From the posts I’ve seen, here’s what you need to know. Then, you decide – Where do transgender athletes fit into athletics?
- Thomas participated on the University of Pennsylvania’s men’s team for three seasons. She began hormone therapy in May 2019 and competed on the Penn women’s team in the fall of 2021. She is not the first transgender athlete to compete in collegiate sports – according to the March 15 article titled “Lia Thomas controversy surrounds NCAA swimming championships, incites national debate” published by ESPN.
- Out of the meet’s 18 events, Thomas finished first in the 500-yard freestyle, tied for fifth in the 200-yard freestyle and placed eighth in the 100-yard freestyle – according to the March 21 article titled “Penn swimmer Lia Thomas didn’t dominate the NCAA championships. That hasn’t stopped the debate over trans athletes” published by Philadelphia Inquirer.
- In the March 21 article titled “Lia Thomas’ NCAA championship performance gives women sports a crucial opportunity” published on NBC News, Cheryl Cooky, a Purdue University professor of American studies and women’s gender and sexuality studies said, “Attempts to ban or limit the participation of trans athletes are not based on science. Instead, they are rooted in societal and cultural definitions of what constitutes gender or what defines a woman. Such questions matter because sports are organized based on the belief of natural differences between men and women, and they are sex-segregated as a result. Yet, this ultimately leads to the discrimination of athletes like Thomas.”
- In the March 18 article titled “Why I’m Proud to Support Trans Athletes like Lia Thomas” published on “Newsweek,” Erica Sullivan, American Olympic Swimmer who placed third to Thomas in the 500-yard freestyle, wrote, “I have been given a platform to advocate for my community, and I can’t sit silently by as I see a fellow swimmer’s fundamental rights be put up for debate. All swimmers embody a diverse set of identities and characteristics. What makes us each unique also contributes to our success in the pool. Yet no one questions the validity of how cisgender athletes’ unique traits and skills, or who they are, contribute to their success. However, University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas has been unfairly targeted for just that—for being who she is, a transgender woman.”
- Among other notable responses to Thomas’ victory was that of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. According to the March 22 article “Gov. Ron DeSantis proclamation: Florida swimmer who lost to trans athlete is ‘rightful winner’” published by USAToday, DeSantis signed a proclamation declaring Emma Weyant the “rightful winner” after placing second to Thomas in the 500-yard freestyle. Caitlyn Jenner responded to DeSantis’ denouncement of Thomas’ NCAA championship win. Jenner tweeted on March 22, “@GovRonDeSantis agreed! She [Emma Weyant who came in second place], is the rightful winner! @TMZ It’s not transphobic or anti-trans, it’s COMMON SENSE!”
- Back in February, 16 members of University of Pennsylvania’s swimming team wrote a letter requesting the University and Ivy League officials to not update the NCAA transgender athlete policy to allow Thomas participation in the sport. According to the February 5 article “Transgender swimmer Lia Thomas has unfair advantage, 16 Penn teammates write in unsigned letter” published by the PhillyVoice, the team wrote that they “fully support Lia Thomas in her decision to affirm her gender identity and to transition from a man to a woman,” but when it came to sports, “the biology of sex is a separate issue from someone’s gender identity.”
There are several other examples of praise and opposition regarding Thomas. These examples were not chosen for a specific reason but they are an effort to keep the conversation going.
As Cooky, the Purdue professor, wrote, “Change in sports doesn’t happen overnight, nor is it linear.”
Whether you agree or disagree with the current events unfolding, they are still going to happen. It is your decision to choose where you stand and what you are going to do about it.