Governor DeSantis Claims Lia Thomas is Undeserving of NCAA Win 

(Image taken from Business Insider via Getty Images; Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

By Staff Writer Shailyn Bacchiocchi

sbacchiocchi@umassd.edu

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) went on a Twitter rant earlier this week over transgender athlete Lia Thomas’ NCAA win. In a lengthy twitter statement, he stripped Lia Thomas of her title and claimed runner-up Emma Weyant as the true winner. 

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On March 17th, Lia Thomas became the first transgender athlete to win a Division I NCAA Championship. Thomas finished the 500-yard freestyle in 4m 33.24s. Emma Weyant, runner-up, came a mere 1.75s after. 

DeSantis does not have any standing in claiming victors in the NCAA, so his statement was merely symbolic. DeSantis does not stand alone in his claims though, as Thomas’ general participation in the sport has been a topic of debate over the past weeks.  

Competitors, politicians, celebrities, and even some of her own teammates previously argued that she should not be allowed to compete in the women’s category because according to them, she has an unfair advantage. 

In January, the NCAA determined that rules around transgender athletes will be determined on a sport-by-sport basis. The NCAA announced that for all sports, “Transgender student-athletes will need to document sport-specific testosterone levels beginning four weeks before their sport’s championship selections.” 

Transgender women athletes must be below a certain testosterone level in order to compete. Thomas must have met the requirements, or she would not have been able to participate. Thomas started gender-affirming hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in 2019, almost three years before her NCAA win. 

After Thomas’ win, she stood alone on the podium while the other placeholders stood together for a picture. Though many thought this to be a protest against Thomas, third-place winner Erica Sullivan claimed in an Instagram post that the photo was taken out of context. Sullivan has been very outspoken about her support of Thomas. Sullivan was 1 of the 322 swimmers who signed in support of Thomas’ participation in an open letter to the NCAA back in February.   

Lia Thomas (L) stands alone on the podium after winning the 500-yard freestyle as runner-ups (L-R) Emma Weyant, Erica Sullivan and Brooke Forde stand together. Picture: Getty Images

Emma Weyant has not commented on DeSantis’ claim that she is the true winner, but some celebrities have spoken out agreeing with DeSantis. Caitlyn Jenner, former Olympic athlete, agreed with DeSantis. In a series of tweets, Jenner claims Thomas’ participation was unfair, and that women’s sports need to be protected. 

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Overall, Thomas has kept quiet during the controversy. Thomas did not attend the official news conference after the competition, despite it being mandatory according to the NCAA. She spoke briefly with an ESPN correspondent after her win.  When asked how she deals with the negativity, Thomas told ESPN, “I try to ignore it as much as I can. I try to focus on my swimming, what I need to do to get ready for my races and just try to block out everything else.” 

Thomas finished her collegiate swimming career at 8th place in the 100-yard freestyle event on March 19th. According to Sports Illustrated, she has applied to law school and will swim in the 2024 Summer Olympic Trials.  

Despite Thomas’ collegiate swimming career being over, this is not the end of the fight for transgender athletes. On Friday, Utah joined multiple other states in banning transgender athletes from competing in school sports. It is unclear whether or not the NCAA will adjust the qualifications for transgender athletes after the controversy surrounding Thomas’ win.

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