Emmy Griffin / March 21, 2022

Dude Wins Women’s NCAA Swimming Championship

The NCAA refusing to stand up for women’s sports should be everyone’s fight.

Lia Thomas won the 500 free last Thursday at the NCAA Division I women’s swimming championships. Once again, he didn’t win by a small margin.

Protesters in support of Thomas and against Thomas were out in force. There were also activists supporting Iszac Henig of Yale (a woman “transitioning to a man”). On the point of Henig, the other athletes evidently didn’t have an issue with her. She is, after all, a biological woman, and this competition is for elite women swimmers.

The activists showed up in support because, says Georgia Tech’s Nikey Kafenzakis, “They’re breaking no rules, right? They’re having to compete at this elite level with the stress of knowing that this is happening outside, and we just want to let them know that we actually really support them.”

That’s the biggest part of the issue. Thomas isn’t breaking NCAA rules. NCAA is in the process of updating its policy regarding gender dysphoric athletes, but nothing has been updated so as not to interfere with the 2022 NCAA championships. Interestingly enough, USA Swimming has updated its policy, specifically regarding the amount of testosterone athletes are allowed to have. The International Olympics Committee also has a policy on gender dysphoric athletes that declares them ineligible if they are blowing the competition out of the water, as Thomas has been doing in these races.

The now infamous picture of Thomas standing alone while 2nd-, 3rd-, and 4th-place finishers were standing away from him has been hotly refuted by the girls themselves, saying this picture was taken out of context. The girls were actually posing for a picture together because they had gone to the Tokyo Olympics a few short months ago. In fact, 3rd-place finisher Erica Sullivan and 4th-place finisher Brooke Forde count themselves among Thomas’s supporters. Forde actually has a published letter in Newsweek outlining her reasons why.

After reading her reasons, it was striking to see how, in some ways, her reasons for standing with Lia Thomas are not even being argued about by those staunchly debating this issue. Thomas’s defenders have tried to subtly change the argument from whether or not he should race with women to whether or not he should competitively swim at all. He, of course, should be allowed to swim and participate in a sport he loves — just on the men’s team, not the women’s. But because the argument has been subtly shifted to whether or not he should be allowed to swim, his supporters are up in arms. We are once again talking past one another.

Saying that Thomas should not be allowed to compete with women “isn’t always a kindness,” as writer David French put it. “It can be a cruelty, especially in athletics and certain kinds of intimate spaces. "Trans women” and women are not similarly situated in all respects.“

French believes there are certain circumstances in which a gender dysphoric person is having his or her rights infringed upon by society (i.e., being fired for being "transgender”). In this case, though, it is a gender dysphoric person who is infringing on women’s rights. “Is [a] trans woman similarly situated to female competitors?” asks French. “No, the female swimmers did not go through male puberty. They do not have male bone structure. In fact, under traditional equal protection categories, treating a competitive women’s swim meet as both a male and female space could violate the principle of treating similarly situated people alike and result in exploiting or harming the vulnerable class.” Just like we have an age restriction on being allowed to legally drive, there is and should be a distinction between male and female in the arena of athletics. It’s exploitive otherwise.

Protesters at the NCAA meet consisted of parents, students, and feminists. The latter may seem like a surprising bedfellow, but some feminists understand that allowing men to compete in women’s sports is erasing women.

The most disheartening thing were the testimonies of women collegiate athletes and their parents seeing the precedent that Thomas is setting. If gender dysphoric men are allowed to compete in women’s competitions like swimming, women are iced out of the podium. And as parents Tanya and Geoff Thatcher point out, “What is father or mother supposed to say when their daughter takes second place to a competitor who was training with her as a man two years earlier?” Their daughter can train as hard as she can and still never be able to catch up to a male competitor.

There was notably one student athlete, Reka Gyorgy, an Olympian and a champion college swimmer for Virginia Tech, who did release a letter respectful of Thomas and his dedication to swimming but calling for the NCAA to change its rules. She said that the NCAA knew this was coming and yet stood by: “It is the result of the NCAA and their lack of interest in protecting their athletes. I ask the NCAA takes time to think about all the other biological women in swimming, try to think how they would feel if they would be in our shoes. Make the right changes for our sport and for a better future in swimming.”

Overall, though, there is a lack of protest from the women athletes who have been bullied into silence by their schools. This has been a pattern of complaint for the team members of Lia Thomas throughout the season. They are afraid to speak out because they don’t want to lose friends, future prospects, or their reputations. And yet, ironically, their voices are the most crucial in this battle. After all, it’s their rights that are being infringed.

Fortunately, there is emerging opposition to men competing as women from another quarter, leftist feminists. A leader in that movement, lawyer Kara Dansky, notes: “My party has been pushing this gender identity agenda in law and throughout the society, and it’s terrible for women and girls. The obliteration of the material reality of biological sex should scare everyone.” We will get some indication in the midterm elections if Democrats have overplayed their “transgender” hand.

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