A university of Kentucky The swimmer and one of the nominees for 2022 NCAA Woman of the Year then spoke with tennis legend Martina Navratilova and others transgender swimmer Lia Thomas was set up for the prestigious award.
UPenn has nominated Thomas, 22, as one of two students nominated for the National College Athletics’ Association Woman of the Year award.
‘[T]This is another slap in the women’s face. First a female national title and now a Pinnacle Award nominee in collegiate athletics. The NCAA has rendered this award worthless,” Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines tweeted in response.
Gaines and Thomas finished fifth at the NCAA women’s 200-meter championships in March, but since there was only one trophy, Gaines was told by the event organizers that the trophy would be given to Thomas while hers was mailed to a would later date.
Gaines wasn’t the only athlete to tweet her outrage.
Navratilova, who has won the most major titles in women’s tennis in the Open Era, also took to Twitter to mock the nomination.
“Not enough fabulous biological female athletes, NCAA?!? What’s wrong with you?!!!!!!!?’ she tweeted.
Riley Gaines (pictured right), University of Kentucky swimmer and one of the 2022 NCAA Woman of the Year nominees, speaks after the University of Pennsylvania nominated transgender swimmer Lia Thomas (pictured left) for the prestigious award
Gaines and Thomas finished fifth at the NCAA women’s 200-meter championships in March, but since there was only one trophy, Gaines was told by the event organizers that the trophy would be given to Thomas while hers was mailed to a would later date
Tennis legend Martina Navratilova also joins the criticism of Thomas’ nomination
Other athletes and commentators also weighed in.
Former NCAA swimming champion Marshi Smith wrote: “How many women’s awards are we willing to give up? The Ivy League choosing a man as its candidate is redoubling its anti-women campaign.”
Smith suggested that Gaines, a University of Kentucky swimmer who competed against Thomas, should win the award.
Physics teacher Debbie Hayton, who is transgender herself, was similarly critical: “I urge Thomas to do the right thing and respectfully decline the nomination and possibly generate some respect.”
Commentators outside of the sports world have also weighed in, with podcast host Allie Beth Stuckey writing, “NCAA names ‘Lia’ Thomas ‘Woman’ of the Year. They laugh at the audacity of our current dystopia. Rest assured, the harder they push this stuff, the harder the pendulum will swing back. And it will strike back – sooner than you think.’
The other University of Pennsylvania candidate is Russian tennis player Luliia Bryzgalova.
Each school is allowed two nominations as long as one of the athletes is an international student or person of color and both must have a degree. The winner will be announced in January 2023 at an NCAA event in San Antonio, Texas.
Thomas, 22, made headlines at the start of the swim season after parents and college swim enthusiasts blanched at a transgender woman competing in the women’s sport.
They say she has significant biological advantages over competing female-born swimmers. Competitive swimming federation FINA has issued tough new guidelines that effectively ban trans swimmers in the wake of the controversy Thomas sparked.
But UPenn has nevertheless gone ahead with its nomination of Thomas, despite frequent condemnation of fellow athletes and their families for their success.
The University of Pennsylvania nominated Lia Thomas, 22, (pictured) for the NCAA Woman of the Year Award
The school is “shamed” for nominating her. A conservative college organization, the Young America’s Foundation, wrote on Twitter that “there is nothing brave about competing against people you have a biological advantage over.”
“Shame on you for nominating Lia Thomas,” wrote the conservative college organization Young America’s Foundation on Twitter. “UPenn must have forgotten that in order to qualify for NCAA Woman of the Year honors, you actually have to be a woman.
Established in 1991, the award “recognizes female student athletes who have exhausted their eligibility and excelled in their community.”
Although Thomas was at the top of the rankings for the entire swim season, she only won the 500-yard freestyle at the championships.
Analysis later uncovered suggested that Thomas deliberately stifled her performance to avoid a clean sweep that would have further fueled allegations of unfairness.
Throughout the season, many called for Thomas’ removal from the team, including some of her teammates.
UPenn swimmers were reportedly told by the college that “Lia’s swimming is non-negotiable.”
“They made it pretty clear if you talk about it, your life will kind of be over, you’ll be branded a ‘transphobe’ all over the internet, … you’ll never be able to get a job,” said one of the Girls in June Anonymous to documentary filmmaker Matt Walsh.
An anonymous student also said the college was so determined to protect Lia because she 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.
“Lia obviously helps us to do better. She swims very fast. Your performance helps the UPenn swim team. The feeling of winning doesn’t feel as good anymore because it feels spoiled,” she said.
Earlier this year, Thomas also expressed a desire to become an Olympian.
In an interview with Good Morning America, she admitted she’s “not a medical expert,” but she said some cisgender women have more testosterone, bigger hands and feet, and are taller than their competitors — so why would she ban them, when they are not.
“I don’t need anyone’s permission to be myself,” she said. “I intend to continue swimming…It has been a goal of mine for a very long time to swim in the Olympic trials and I would like to do it.”
She also said that anyone who says she cannot compete as a woman is transphobic, whether or not they support her right to transition.
“You can’t go halfway and say, ‘I support trans people, but only up to a point. If you support trans women and they’ve met all NCAA requirements, I don’t know if you can say such a thing.
UPenn also nominated Russian tennis player Luliia 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 have switched before the age of 12 to compete.
FINA also proposed an “open” section for transgender athletes to compete in.