UPenn Draws Criticism For Lia Thomas’ ‘Women Of The Year’ Nomination

The University of Pennsylvania has drawn criticism for nominated NCAA swimming transgender champ, Lia Thomas, for Women Of The Year.

By Erika Hanson | Published

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Lia Thomas

Transgender rights have long been debated in American culture. However, the conversation erupted into heated, contentious political battles with a focus on schools and sports after transgender athlete Lia Thomas became the first openly transgender athlete to win an NCAA national championship this year. With no end in sight, the flames are once again ignited, as the state university she represented when winning the title has now nominated her for the league’s Women Of The Year award. 

For over two decades, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has recognized a senior female student-athlete each year for not only their expertise in an athletic form, but also for maintaining top academic standings, and prestige service and leadership. This year, 577 women were nominated, including transgender swimmer Lia Thomas. While some transgender activists have applauded the University of Pennsylvania’s nomination for recognizing cisgender athletes’ existence, critics are berating the school for knocking down female equality in sports a peg. 

Whether for positive reasons or not, Lia Thomas’ name is well known to many Americans because of the history she made when she won the women’s 500-yard freestyle swimming NCAA event in March. Before her transition, the Women Of The Year nominee had competed for Pennsylvania’s men’s swim team for three years. She didn’t boast a title at that time, but she still faired well in men’s events, which led many to be skeptical of her women’s win, despite the fact that she performed worse as a female than compared to her men’s records.

Under NCAA protocol, transgender individuals are allowed to participate in women’s sports events so long that they have been on hormonal replacement therapy for an extended amount of time. This is because the treatment drops muscle mass and strength by altering the levels of hormones in the body. Lia Thomas began to medically transition over three years ago

But despite all this, many people, ranging from small children to lawmakers, and athletes all vehemently feel that naturally born men should never be allowed to compete on a women’s sports team. To this, the majority of all Republican states have already banned transgender athletes from doing so in a school setting. And now that Lia Thomas was not only allowed to take an NCAA title from a naturally born female but also will possibly be recognized as a Women Of The Year, countless people are up in arms. 

Fellow Women Of The Year nominee, Riley Gaines, a University of Kentucky swimmer tweeted out a berating response to the news of Lia Thomas. Denouncing the NCAA, she said that they have now made the coveted title “worthless.” Likewise. Former NCAA swimming champion, Marshi Smith ridiculed UPenn, alleging they have started an “anti-women” crusade. 

Acknowledging the growing outrage that many people around the globe have displayed against sporting organizations that allow transgender women to compete against natural-born females, there has been a shift to further outlaw these individuals from competing. Late in June, FINA, the global governing body that oversees swimming events banned transgender women from competing in women’s events. But for now, the debate will rage on over Lia Thomas and transgender athletes in general. The NCAA won’t make its decision on who will be awarded the Women Of The Year until the league’s annual convention, next January.