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Tipsheet

ICYMI: Over 300 Swimmers Sign Open Letter Supporting Lia Thomas

AP Photo/Josh Reynolds

More than 300 current and former NCAA, Team USA, and international athletes signed an open letter last week in support of University of Pennsylvania swimmer William “Lia” Thomas, who is a biological male competing on the women’s swim team. As Townhall has reported, Thomas has broken several women’s swimming records.

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The letter came after the NCAA updates its transgender athlete guidelines to allow the governing body of each sport to decide its own policy. USA Swimming then unveiled its policy, as Townhall covered. The new policy requires that biological males who wish to compete on a women’s swim team at the elite level must show a concentration of testosterone in their blood that is less than 5 nanomoles per liter for at least 36 months. The swimmer must also undergo an evaluation by a three-person panel of medical experts who will determine whether the swimmer’s physical development as a male gives them an advantage over their biological female competitors.

As I’ve covered, Thomas competed on the men’s swim team at UPenn for three seasons before competing on the women’s team. According to the NCAA’s policy, Thomas could be barred from competing on the women’s team.

In the letter, the athletes urged the NCAA not to adopt USA Swimming’s new policy mid-season and voiced their support for Thomas competing as a woman. 

“We, the undersigned members of the swimming community, support and welcome transgender and nonbinary athletes in our sport. 

With this letter, we express our support for Lia Thomas, and all transgender college athletes, who deserve to be able to participate in safe and welcoming athletic environments. We urge you to not allow political pressure to compromise the safety and wellbeing of college athletes everywhere. 

We ask the following: 1) do not adopt USA Swimming’s current policy mid-season; 2) establish clear and consistent guidelines for developing and adopting new eligibility policies, and ensure those policies are adopted and communicated well in advance of the season; and 3) ensure that transgender and nonbinary athletes are directly engaged in the policy development process.

We love swimming for the lifelong, invaluable lessons it has taught us about hard work, discipline, and the power of being part of a team. No one should be denied the opportunity to have their life changed through swimming simply because of who they are. 

There are very real, documented threats to women’s swimming, including but not limited to rampant sexual abuse, and an inequitable number of women’s coaches within USA Swimming. The NCAA also faces its own deep and historical challenges with gender equity, as outlined in the detailed report released last year focused on the stark differences between NCAA D1 men’s and women’s basketball. We can and should address these challenges. Transgender women are not and have never been a part of these challenges to women’s swimming, and sidelining them from sport does nothing to protect women athletes. 

What makes our sport great is the strength in the diversity of our athletes. No one swimmer is the same. We learn from each other, are inspired by one another, and support one another. We will not be silent as members of our swim community are unfairly targeted by discriminatory policies.”

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Last month, a swimmer on the UPenn women’s swim team spoke to The Washington Examiner on the condition of anonymity where she said Thomas “compares herself to Jackie Robinson” and “mocks” competing on the women’s team.

“It’s been super draining and frustrating,” she added, "because no one seems to care about the actual women.”

Additionally, 16 unnamed members of the UPenn women’s swim team sent a letter to their school and Ivy League officials this month requesting that they do not pursue legal action against the NCAA’s policy. 

“We fully support Lia Thomas in her decision to affirm her gender identity and to transition from a man to a woman. Lia has every right to live her life authentically,’ the letter read. “However, we also recognize that when it comes to sports competition, that the biology of sex is a separate issue from someone’s gender identity. Biologically, Lia holds an unfair advantage over competition in the women’s category, as evidenced by her rankings that have bounced from #462 as a male to #1 as a female. If she were to be eligible to compete against us, she could now break Penn, Ivy, and NCAA Women’s Swimming records; feats she could never have done as a male athlete.”

The letter was sent by Olympic swimming gold medalist Nancy Hogshead-Makar, who told The Washington Post in a telephone interview that she sent the letter on the swimmers’ behalf so they could avoid retaliation.

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According to the Post, the swimmers claim they were told they “would be removed from the team or that we would never get a job offer” if they spoke out against Thomas.

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