Young woman swimmer swims in swimming pool
Young woman swimmer swims in swimming pool
Humanize From Discovery Institute's Center on Human Exceptionalism

Swimming World Editor Tells Truth about Transgender Competition in Women’s Sports

Originally published at National Review

The Huffington Post just reported that a transgender swimmer “continues to smash records” in women’s college swimming meets. The athlete, Lia Thomas, was quoted in the story saying, “Being trans has not affected my ability to do this sport and being able to continue is very rewarding.”

That’s what comes from being a sure thing. Thomas recently won a race by a whopping 38 seconds. The biological male athlete’s body has greater muscle mass than the women competing. It just isn’t fair contest. But stories like that in the HP continue to pretend that Thomas’s intrinsic biology doesn’t matter.

We live in irrational and cowardly times. Some truths cannot be safely stated plainly because the enemies of rationality will brand the truth-teller a hater, with potentially very deleterious consequences to the person’s career and reputation.

But that truth must still be told or we are doomed as a culture. Thankfully, John Lohn, the editor in chief of Swimming World, just took that crucial step in an op-ed, comparing the current circumstance to the old “doping” scandals when female East German Olympian swimmers enhanced their capabilities with injections. From, “Without NCAA Action, the Effect of Lia Thomas Case are Akin to Doping“:

The influence of doping occupies no small chapter in the sport’s history. Numerous athletes — through individualized decisions — have tainted competition through their use of illicit drugs. Some countries — notably East Germany and China — have developed national-level programs designed to attain powerhouse status. Either way, wreckage has been left behind, the greatest casualties those clean athletes beaten and knocked down, or off the podium

The newest predicament facing the sport is not one of rampant doping, but a complex scenario with an outcome that could be as damning.

Lohn writes that the natural male biology of Thomas’s body provides an unfair advantage:

Despite the hormone suppressants she has taken, in accordance with NCAA guidelines, Thomas’ male-puberty advantage has not been rolled back an adequate amount. The fact is, for nearly 20 years, she built muscle and benefited from the testosterone naturally produced by her body. That strength does not disappear overnight, nor with a year’s worth of suppressants. Consequently, Thomas dives into the water with an inherent advantage over those on the surrounding blocks. . . .

That’s not transphobic. It is a scientific fact. It isn’t hate. It is a statement of common sense.

Lohn describes the reasons why a male body has “a massive advantage” in a race — and then gets to the nub of the controversy:

Let’s get this out of the way, because some readers will argue we are calling Lia Thomas a doper — regardless of the information presented and the selected verbiage. That is not the case. There is no intent. What we are stating is this: The effects of being born a biological male, as they relate to the sport of swimming, offer Thomas a clear-cut edge over the biological females against whom she is competing. She is stronger. It is that simple. And this strength is beneficial to her stroke, on turns and to her endurance. Doping has the same effect.

According to NCAA rules, Thomas has met expectations for participation. But for Thomas to suggest she does not have a significant advantage, as she did in one interview, is preposterous at best, and denial at worst. Sure, it is on the NCAA to adjust its bylaws in the name of fair competition for the thousands of swimmers who compete at the collegiate level. It is also on Thomas to acknowledge her edge. The suppressants she has taken account for an approximate 2% to 3% change. The time difference between male and female swimming records is roughly 11%.

Lohn calls on the NCAA to act rationally:

The NCAA needs to act, and it needs to act quickly. This scenario — with the effects of doping — cannot linger. For the good of the sport, and for fairness to those competing as biological women, a ruling must come down soon.

If it doesn’t, the NCAA just doesn’t care.

Or, its administrators are craven.

Feminists worked diligently over many years to achieve equality in women’s collegial sports. Those advances are now materially threatened, as is the future of women’s sports generally. I mean, imagine if a transgender woman golf professional competed in a women’s tournament. Unless the golfer was a very bad putter, the chances of victory would be very high. Even more compelling, if a biological male tennis pro competed against biological females at Wimbledon. It would be no contest.

If current trends continue, we ultimately can envision biological males dominating most sports competitions, male and female. Where is the “equity” in that?

If women’s athletics are to be saved, only biological women should be allowed to compete against each other. Good for Lohn for having the guts to say so plainly. Here’s hoping it doesn’t cost him his job.

Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.