How can you write more than 4,000 words about transgender swimmer Lia Thomas and not mention that Thomas’s rank when swimming as a man was 462? The Sports Illustrated profile of Thomas mentions right at the top that when swimming as a female, Thomas is ranked number one in the NCAA.
Somehow, it kinda slipped SI author Robert Sanchez’s mind that Thomas, when swimming as a man, was a mediocre swimmer. And that omission illustrates the problem with SI’s profile of Lia Thomas.
SI sat down for an exclusive interview with Penn’s Lia Thomas, the woman at the heart of the debate over transgender athletes.
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) March 3, 2022
Sanchez tried. Look at all the second-place finishes Thomas won as a man!
The 2018–19 season proved to be Thomas’s best yet. She earned second-place finishes in the same trio of Ivy championship races in which she’d excelled the previous year, earning her multiple spots on the All-Ivy team. Thomas got closer to her goal of swimming at the NCAA championships and perhaps qualifying for the ’20 Olympic trials. In just two years she’d proved to be a quiet leader—a no-complaints workhorse who kept a steady pace in practice and flipped the switch in competition.
All kinds of inconvenient facts are glossed over or left out in this story. It just so happens that most of the omissions appear to favor Thomas’s argument that Thomas should swim on the Penn swim team as a woman.
The SI piece refuses to delve very deeply into the controversy, making the profile a thinly disguised puff piece.
“I’m a woman, just like anybody else on the team,” Thomas says. “I’ve always viewed myself as just a swimmer. It’s what I’ve done for so long; it’s what I love.” She’s not thinking about wins or records, she insists. “I get into the water every day and do my best.”
I call BS on that. There isn’t a genuine competitive athlete on the planet who doesn’t constantly and obsessively think about winning. It’s that obsession that usually spells the difference between victory and failure.
For Thomas, the transition to female was a shock.
When she started practicing with Penn again in the late summer of 2021, she felt physically different from the person who’d come close to hitting NCAA championship–qualifying times in men’s distance races. She’d been on HRT a little more than two years by then. Thomas says she shrunk about an inch. She noticed her strength wasn’t the same; fat had also had been redistributed within her body. Holding her old practice paces was an impossibility. She realized she couldn’t obsess over what she could no longer do. “I feel disconnected from them,” she says of her old race times. “It was a different moment in my life.” [Emphasis added]
As a man, Thomas was not that close to being a champion — not with a ranking of 462. And hitting the NCAA qualifying times is light years away from winning or even being competitive. In fact, any information that would suggest the complaints about Thomas’s abilities versus a female’s are valid are glossed over or omitted entirely.
This is an argument that has two sides. But one side can’t afford to have the other side’s arguments aired because doing so would expose the fallacy of those arguments. Rather than engage, other viewpoints are suppressed by threats and intimidation. And author Sanchez barely scratched the surface of that outrage.
You’ve probably read of the controversy on the Penn swim team, how it’s divided the team and set parents against one another. What you won’t read much about in the SI profile of Thomas is the threats against swimmers, parents, and students who dare question trans orthodoxy. Thomas doesn’t hold with the terror campaign against opponents but has taken the position that “you’re either for me or against me.”
“It’s mean,” one Penn parent who identifies as a progressive but opposes Thomas’s eligibility says of the online and media bigotry directed at her. “Lia is a human being who deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. But it’s not transphobic to say I disagree with where she’s swimming.”
That argument is disingenuous to Thomas. There is no such thing as half-support: Either you back her fully as a woman or you don’t. “The very simple answer is that I’m not a man,” she says. “I’m a woman, so I belong on the women’s team. Trans people deserve that same respect every other athlete gets.”
Gender dysphoria is real and those afflicted with it deserve our sympathy and support. It’s a shame that those who wish to have a serious discussion about the issues surrounding transgenderism are automatically branded as haters if they don’t toe the trans line on athletics.