Sports Opinion | Supporting the athletic achievements of Lia Thomas

     Lia Thomas, a senior swimmer at the University of Pennsylvania, has recently garnered attention after she became the first openly transgender athlete to win an event in the NCAA Division I swim national championships, taking a victory in the women’s 500-yard freestyle. 

     This sparked a larger debate about whether Thomas should have qualified to compete in the events, citing her historical records of being a “below-average” swimmer in the men’s category as impetus for her transition. 

     First off, the notion that Lia Thomas transitioned solely because of her collegiate swimming career is completely irrational. Thomas was never a bad athlete pre-transition. In fact, Thomas recorded the top university times during her stint at Yale in multiple men’s categories, way before she began her transition.

     Thomas was ranked 11th in the men’s 100 meter before hormone therapy affected her performance and subtracted 15 seconds from her time. 

     On the other hand, many use her overall 462nd rank in NCAA men’s swimming to explain her choice to compete in the women’s category, another fallacy that doesn’t scratch the surface of the truth.  

     There are 358 total schools in the NCAA’s Division I program, meaning that Thomas would have been, statistically speaking, among the top three of any given college swimming institution. 

     I add, along with this, a friendly reminder that Thomas is not among the goliaths in the women’s rankings. She won one event. ONE. That’s all. A single 500-yard freestyle that has been blown out of proportion and framed her as the best in the league. 

Photo courtesy of Josh Reynolds/Associated Press. 

     Thomas saw a decrease in her muscle mass when she started taking estrogen. She had to — just like ALL cisgender athletes — take a physical test to determine the amount of testosterone in her body. These are the same guidelines that disqualified female runners Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi from competing in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games this past summer. 

     The test determined that Thomas’s testosterone levels qualified her to compete in the national championship events. 

     Genetic advantage should never be a reason to disqualify someone from a sport unless against NCAA rules, plain and simple. Thomas didn’t break any rules, so her participation in the sport doesn’t warrant the judgement that she’s received. 

     I guess we can make a few arguments against her, right? She does have unusually long arms that give her a wingspan of six feet, seven inches. She does have disproportionally large hands that act as flippers, and her body produces less than the usual amount of lactic acid that keeps her muscles from getting tired. 

     Oh, wait. That’s Michael Phelps. 

     Physical advantage is prevalent in all sports, no matter a person’s gender identity. If this were such an unfair skew, put height limits on NBA players and weight limits on NFL players. 

     Sports fans, as a group that loves to experience the sensation of controversy, have a growing problem. We take pride in the players and teams that we know and love and, when they get taken down, turn to extremist examples to justify a loss. 

     Thomas’s hurricane of a media takedown has come from a place of malice and inconceivable animosity against the revolution of female athletics that is coming to compete with male-exclusive sports. 

     The women’s basketball Final Four had their highest viewership rating in 18 years and delivered the fourth-highest viewed National Championship game of all time. In fact, the women’s softball College World Series outperformed the men’s CWS by 60%. 

     We’re getting to a point where women’s sports are becoming more watchable and therefore more prone to hate in the same way men’s sports are. However, where hate is, praise is just around the corner, and I can’t wait to see the upcoming performances of these incredible women, especially Thomas.  

     Because she, as we all know, deserves a win.