University Kentucky swimmer and one of the NCAA’s 2022 Woman of the Year nominees, joined tennis legend Martina Navratilová and others who spoke after transgender swimmer Lia Thomas was nominated for a prestigious award.
UPenn named Thomas, 22, as one of two students nominated for the National College Athletics’ Association’s Woman of the Year award.
‘[T]this is another slap in the face to women. First a women’s national title and now a nominee for the top honor in college athletics. The NCAA has made this award worthless,” Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines wrote in response on Twitter.
Gaines and Thomas famously tied for fifth at the NCAA Women’s 200-meter Championships in March, but because there was only one trophy, event organizers told Gaines that Thomas’ trophy would go to her while hers would be mailed. Later.
Gaines wasn’t the only athlete to tweet her outrage.
Navrátilová, who has won the most major titles in women’s tennis in the Open Era, also mocked the nomination on Twitter.
“Not enough fabulous female biological athletes, NCAA?!? What is the matter with you?!!!!!!!?’ she tweeted.
University of Kentucky swimmer and 2022 NCAA Woman of the Year nominee Riley Gaines (pictured right) spoke after the University of Pennsylvania nominated transgender swimmer Liu Thomas (pictured left) for the prestigious award.
Gaines and Thomas famously tied for fifth at the NCAA Women’s 200-meter Championships in March, but because there was only one trophy, event organizers told Gaines that Thomas’ trophy would go to her while hers would be mailed. Later
Tennis legend Martina Navrátilová joins the criticism of Thomas’ nomination
Other athletes and commentators also signed up.
Former NCAA swimmer Marshi Smith wrote, “How many women’s awards are we willing to give up? The Ivy League, which has chosen a man as its candidate, is redoubling its campaign against women.”
Smith suggested that Gaines, a University of Kentucky swimmer who competed with Thomas, win the award.
Physics teacher Debbie Hayton, who is transgender herself, was similarly critical: “I urge Thomas to do the right thing, respectfully decline the nomination and possibly garner some respect.”
Commentators outside of the sports world also weighed in, with podcast host Allie Beth Stuckey writing, “NCAA Names ‘Lia’ Thomas ‘Woman’ of the Year. You laugh at the audacity of our current dystopia. Rest assured that the harder he pushes on this substance, the harder the pendulum will swing back. And he’ll turn back—sooner than you think.”
Another candidate of the University of Pennsylvania is the Russian tennis player Luliia Bryzgalova.
Each school is allowed two nominations as long as one of the athletes is an international student or a person of color and both must graduate. The winner will be announced at the NCAA event in San Antonio, Texas in January 2023.
Thomas, 22, made headlines at the start of the swim season after parents and varsity swim enthusiasts paled over a transgender woman competing in women’s sports.
It is said to have significant biological advantages over competing female-born swimmers. Competitive swimming body FINA has issued robust new guidelines that effectively ban trans swimmers in the wake of the controversy sparked by Thomas.
But UPenn continued to nominate Thomas regardless, despite frequent condemnation from fellow athletes and their families about her success.
The University of Pennsylvania has nominated Liu Thomas (22) (pictured) for the NCAA Woman of the Year Award
The school is ‘ashamed’ of nominating her. The conservative college organization Young America’s Foundation wrote on Twitter that “there is nothing brave about competing with people you have a biological advantage over.”
“Shame on them for nominating Lia Thomas,” the conservative college organization Young America’s Foundation tweeted. “UPenn must have forgotten that to qualify for the NCAA Woman of the Year award, one must actually be a woman.
The award was established in 1991 and “recognizes female student-athletes who have exhausted their eligibility and excelled in their community.”
Although ranked high during the swimming season, Thomas only won the 500-yard freestyle at the championships.
Analysis subsequently revealed suggested that Thomas was deliberately suppressing her performance to avoid clear wins that would have further fueled accusations of unfairness.
Throughout the season, many called for Thomas to be removed from the team, including some of her teammates.
UPenn swimmers were reportedly told by the college that ‘Li’s swimming is non-negotiable.’
“They made it pretty clear that if you talk about it, your life is going to end in some way, you’re going to be trashed all over the internet as a ‘transphobe’ … you’re never going to be able to get a job,” one of the girls told documentary filmmaker Matt Walsh anonymously in June.
One anonymous student also said that the college was so determined to protect Liu because it helps them gain points over other schools. Lia’s performance helped the team move up seven places in the rankings from 27th in 2019 to 20th in 2021.
“Obviously, Lia helps us be better. It swims really fast. Her performance helps the UPenn swim team. The feeling of winning is not so good anymore because it is tainted,” she said.
Earlier this year, Thomas also expressed his desire to become an Olympian.
In an interview with Good Morning America, she admitted she was “no medical expert” but said some cisgender women have more testosterone, bigger arms and legs and are taller than their competition – so why should she ban when they don’t.
“I don’t need anyone’s permission to be myself,” she said. “I intend to continue swimming… It’s been a goal of mine for a long time to swim at the Olympic Trials and I’d love to achieve that.”
She also said that anyone who says she’s not allowed to compete as a woman is transphobic, regardless of whether they support her right to transition or not.
“You can’t go half-assed and be like ‘I support trans people, but only up to a certain point.’ If you support trans women and they’ve met all the NCAA requirements, I don’t know if you can say something like that.
UPenn also nominated Russian tennis player Lulia Bryzgalova (pictured)
“Trans women are not a threat to women’s sport,” she said.
However, last month FINA – swimming’s governing body – banned transgender athletes from elite events.
Athletes would have to pass the age of 12 to compete.
FINA has also proposed an “open” section for transgender athletes to compete in.