- The Washington Times
Tuesday, July 19, 2022

The University of Pennsylvania’s decision to nominate transgender swimmer Lia Thomas as the 2022 NCAA Woman of the Year is facing splashback from some female athletes.

Swimmer Riley Gaines, who was nominated by the University of Kentucky for the honor, said Monday that the Thomas nomination has turned the prestigious award into “something that people are laughing at.”

“It’s a mockery. That’s what this whole thing has turned into, something we as female athletes have dedicated our whole lives to,” said Gaines on Fox’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” “It’s something that people are laughing at. It’s an insult. It’s incredibly disheartening. And quite frankly it’s wrong.”

Thomas swam for three years on the men’s team before transitioning to female and joining the women’s side, where she smashed records and became in March the first male-born athlete to win an NCAA Division I women’s title.

“We have an NCAA Woman of the Year [nominee] who spent 95% of their life as a male,” said Gaines. “It doesn’t add up. It’s incredibly, just, insulting. Think of all the athletes at UPenn, the deserving female athletes who didn’t get this nomination, and Thomas did after quite literally only one year. Woman of the Year, it makes sense because it’s been one year Thomas has spent as a female.”

Each NCAA school may nominate up to two female athletes annually for the award. The conferences then select up to two athletes to move on to the next round, where the selection committee will narrow down the list to 10 in each of the three divisions.

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“If Thomas is selected by the Ivy League — and from afar it seems entirely possible — this conversation will heat up to a boiling point,” said the LGBTQ sports publication OutSports.

The winner will be announced in January at the NCAA Convention in San Antonio.

Thomas received kudos Monday from the LGBTQ group Athlete Ally, which congratulated her on Twitter for her “well-deserved nomination for the 2022 @NCAA Woman of the Year award!”

On the other side was women’s tennis great Martina Navratilova, who tweeted, “Not enough fabulous biological women athletes, NCAA?!? What is wrong with you?!!!!!!!?”

Gaines called the Thomas nomination “a punch to the gut. It’s a slap in the face. It’s a total regression of what Title IX stands for.”

Gaines, who graduated in May, read from a letter she received Monday from the NCAA congratulating her, which said the award “provides an important opportunity to honor incredible women and reflect on the impact of women on intercollegiate sports.”

“I just read this and honestly, like you said, I just laughed because that’s what we’re doing at this point, we’re laughing at women,” said Gaines.

Gaines and Thomas tied for fifth in the 200-yard freestyle at the NCAA Division I championships. Gaines said afterward an NCAA official handed the trophy to Thomas for the post-swim photo, and sent her a trophy later in the mail.

Thomas, who graduated in May, has not commented publicly on the honor. The Ivy League swimmer met the NCAA eligibility requirement for transgender athletes by undergoing at least a year of testosterone suppression before competing.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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