The controversy surrounding Penn transgender swimmer Lia Thomas has been brought to national attention during the past two weeks as the debate rages on about the playing field being level in women’s swimming. Thomas, a transgender swimmer who has followed the rules set forth by the NCAA on this matter, has put together some of the top college times in the country two years after competing for the Penn men’s swim team.
The major reaction to Thomas’ speed in the water has been focused on records being in jeopardy and the validity of any record she might break, and whether or not Thomas competing is fair to female swimmers who were born female. Thomas competing in women’s races just a few years after transitioning has led to controversy, and there have been numerous opinions about whether she should be allowed in women’s races. She has undergone required hormone therapy, but many believe that since she underwent male puberty, she has inherent advantages over her female competitors.
But there are plenty of other issues at stake that parents of Penn swimmers have discussed and written about. They, like many upset by the issue, are trying not to take their frustrations out on Thomas, but are taking their frustrations to the NCAA to change the rules after Thomas’ situation is revealing an uneven playing field in many people’s eyes.
One issue emphasized by the Penn parents is travel team participation. Thomas is one of 26 swimmers that can travel to NCAA away meets. Her participation means that one female-born swimmer will not get to travel and compete at each away meet.
Then there is the issue of relay participation. Thomas is the fastest swimmer on the team and would likely be chosen for most, if not all, of the Penn relays at the Ivy League Championships and any relay that qualifies for the NCAA Championships. That means other swimmers on her team won’t swim at the NCAA Championships.
A Penn parent wishing to remain anonymous shared their thoughts on these matters:
Penn parents have been active about this issue as a group. They wrote an open letter to the NCAA, the Ivy League and Penn officials, looking for answers.
Answers could include changing the rules to mandate more than one year of gender transitioning, or creating a third gender group for college swimming, and a number of other possibilities. Of course, the NCAA could also do nothing, citing Lia Thomas following of the rules.
“At stake here is the integrity of women’s sports,” the letter said, according to DailyMail.com. “The precedent being set — one in which women do not have a protected and equitable space to compete — is a direct threat to female athletes in every sport. What are the boundaries? How is this in line with the NCAA’s commitment to providing a fair environment for student-athletes?
‘It is the responsibility of the NCAA to address the matter with an official statement. As the governing body, it is unfair and irresponsible to leave the onus on Lia, Lia’s teammates, Lia’s coaches, UPenn athletics and the Ivy League.”
The university sent a terse response to the parents, claiming the school is doing what it can to help the student-athletes navigate Thomas’ success, shared a link to mental health services.
“Please know that we fully support all our swimming student-athletes and want to help our community navigate Lia’s success in the pool this winter,” the university said in its reply, according to DailyMail.com. “Penn Athletics is committed to being a welcoming and inclusive environment for all our student-athletes, coaches and staff and we hold true to that commitment today and in the future.”