Support transgender athletes

No room for hate in collegiate athletics


Heather Khalifa / The Philadelphia Inquirer / TNS

Penn swimmer Lia Thomas looks up at her time after finishing first in the 500-yard freestyle race during the NCAA championships at the McAuley Aquatic Center in Atlanta on Thursday, March 17, 2022. Thomas, who is a transgender woman, made history Thursday as the first transgender person to claim a Division I national title.

Kaleia Lawrence, Editor in Chief

Lia Thomas is the first transgender athlete to win a NCAA Division I title. Her career, which has been met with protests and outrage, has come to a close.  

At the 2022 National Swimming Championship, Thomas won the 500 freestyle, taking nine seconds off the former record. In her other two events, the freestyle 200 and 100, she tied for fifth and came in eighth, respectively.  

Thomas was able to complete this feat while protesters that stood against her were outside. Even when she was announced, there were some boos. Besides the physical challenge that comes with competing, Thomas had to face incredibly tough mental challenges. 

And these challenges came before the whistle was ever blown. This entire season, many who don’t usually care about collegiate swimming or college sports in general have been watching Thomas’ career like a hawk. Protests all over the nation have been sparked, calling for transgender athletes banned from competition.  

But protests came from even closer ranks than people across the country that Thomas might never interact with. Sixteen of her own teammates at Penn State wrote an anonymous letter to the NCAA asking for rules to change so Thomas couldn’t compete. 

Being a collegiate athlete already comes with challenges: long hours, tough physical work, staying on top of classes and the mental toughness that’s needed.  

But Thomas faced much, much more than the average athlete. Not only is the country outraged with her existence, but her teammates who are supposed to have her back, wish she weren’t working alongside them. It’s disgraceful and goes against what being a team is. 

But for the hate from Thomas’ team, support came from within the swim community as well. Over 300 current and former professional swimmers wrote an open letter in support of Thomas.  

One competitor from Yale, Iszac Henig, is a transgender man. He and Thomas both swam with “Let trans kids play” inked on their arms. They were able to face off in the pool because Henig hasn’t started hormone therapy yet.  

It’s unclear what the NCAA will do regarding current rules about transgender athletes. USA Swimming recently changed their policy so that transgender women must be cleared by an independent board to see if there are any advantages for the transgender athlete, though no details on what an advantage implies.  

Transgender women  should be allowed to compete, no matter the level of play. The argument that “it’s not fair to women” is rooted in transphobia. 

Transgender women are women. When the argument of it being unfair to women is used, it erases transgender women. They are women. In the case of athletes, they have to undergo a year of hormone therapy to compete. Testerone levels are also tested multiple times throughout the season and must be at a certain level.  

If there are physical “advantages” that people  gripe about, then it should apply to cisgender athletes as well.  

For example, Michael Phelps is a 28 time Olympic medalist, the majority of them being gold. His body has many physical advantages compared to competitors. He has a six foot seven inch wingspan, even though he stands at six foot four inches. His ankles are double jointed and his body produces half the lactic acid of a typical athlete which causes less fatigue. 

Where was the outrage when Phelps was getting medals on top of medals? Where were the protesters shaking their signs saying “protect the fairness of boy sports”? There weren’t any because Phelps is a cisgender man.  

Clearly, the protests are transphobic. If people were so worried about fairness of play, then there’d be frenzies of protests every time a taller than average athlete was set to compete. 

In the case of Thomas, yes, she won a title. But in the other races she competed in, she didn’t reach the podium. If she had so many advantages, shouldn’t she have medaled in every race?  

Thomas isn’t the first transgender collegiate athlete, or even the first to swim. Many came before her, and more will come after.  

These athletes should be supported. There’s no room for hate on the court, in the field or at the pool.