Sixteen members of Pennsylvania’s women’s swimming team penned a letter to the school and Ivy League officials asking that they not pursue legal action to challenge the NCAA’s new transgender participation policies.
The new directive has the possibility of preventing Lia Thomas from competing in the NCAA championships next month.
Thomas had competed for the school’s men’s swimming team for three seasons before transitioning and moving to the women’s squad. This campaign, she has set multiple program records and qualified for next month’s championships in the 200-yard, 500-yard and 1,650-yard freestyle events.
“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, per The Washington Post. ”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 science around trans athletes is unsettled—it has not been proven that trans women, who are required to go through hormone therapy to compete in the NCAA, retain an advantage over their cisgender peers.)
The teammates’ identities are not disclosed in the letter; however, The Post reported that it was sent by Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a 1984 Olympic swimming gold medalist, lawyer and chief executive of Champion Women.
Penn Athletics previously announced it would work with the NCAA in support of Thomas. Two weeks ago, the NCAA said it would be changing its policies on transgender participation so that each sport’s rules mirrored those of their national governing body (in this case, that meant the NCAA swimming rules would mirror those of USA Swimming). On Tuesday, USA Swimming announced a new policy that laid out a series of requirements and tasks a three person panel with determining whether a transgender woman athlete holds “a competitive advantage over the athlete’s cisgender female competitors.” The NCAA, though, has not yet announced how—and when—the USA Swimming rules will be implemented at the collegiate level.
The letter comes after multiple members of the swimming and diving squad voiced their support for Thomas earlier this week amid the recent criticism about their teammate.
“We want to express our full support for Lia in her transition,” the athletes said, per ESPN. ”We value her as a person, teammate, and friend. The sentiments put forward by an anonymous member of our team are not representative of the feelings, values, and opinions of the entire Penn team, composed of 39 women with diverse backgrounds.
“... We recognize this is a matter of great controversy and are doing our best to navigate it while still focusing on doing our best in the pool and classroom.”
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