Guest Editorial: Five-Time Olympic Coach Dennis Pursley Calls For End Of Transgender Participation in Women’s Sports

dennis-pursley

Guest Editorial: Five-Time Olympic Coach Dennis Pursley Calls For End Of Transgender Participation

Five-time Olympic coach and former USA Swimming National Team Director Dennis Pursley has submitted a guest editorial which addresses the debate concerning transgender participation in the sport. Pursley emailed the commentary to Swimming World, stating that he felt the need to weigh in on the topic, which became a major storyline during the collegiate season.

Specifically, transgender participation made headlines during the 2021-22 season due to Lia Thomas competing as a member of the University of Pennsylvania women’s team, following three years of competition as a member of the university’s men’s program. Thomas went on to capture the NCAA title in the 500-yard freestyle.

Here is Pursley’s editorial.

***********************************

Women and men are absolutely equal, but they are also different. Their differences should be celebrated, not denigrated. Fifty years of coaching experience has revealed to me that women and men complement one another, and that each is advantaged over the other in some ways. It is common knowledge that, generally speaking, when it comes to speed, power and strength, men are advantaged over women. Hormone treatment can mitigate this advantage, but it cannot eliminate it.

To pretend otherwise is to defy reason, logic, science and common sense; not to mention reality and truth. Regardless of whether you consider Lia Thomas to be a man or a woman, the fact is that he/she is a person with male chromosomes, and male physiology.

At best, Lia was a very mediocre male swimmer whose times did not even come close to being fast enough to qualify to compete in the men’s NCAA championships, much less to win an event. If you want to see where this is going, if it is allowed to continue, just look at the mixed relays that were conducted for the first time in the Tokyo Olympics. Coincidentally, four of the eight teams in the finals chose to lead off with men and the other four led off with women. This was the best against the best. The four men had a body length lead on the four women by the time they surfaced from the start and the lead of the men over the women was extended with every stroke of the race. If the governing bodies don’t come to their senses, it will only be a matter of time before some of these faster men choose to participate in women’s sports, making a mockery of the competition.

I don’t expect this to continue but, if it does, it will mean the end of women’s sports at the elite level.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time that women in our sport have been denied the opportunities and recognition that they deserve with, in some cases, devastating consequences. The East Germans dominated international competition in the 1970s. We all knew that they were cheating through the use of performance enhancing drugs but, like today, we were branded as sore losers if we spoke out against it, and the governing bodies chose to turn a blind eye.

This same problem reared its ugly head again with the Chinese in the 1990s. Again, the governing bodies tried to put a gag order on those of us who protested. After having experienced this with the East Germans, some of us could not ignore it a second time and look into the mirror. So, Don Talbot, the head coach of the Australian team, and I called a press conference at the World Championships to expose the injustice. At that time, for the most part, the media’s agenda was to report the facts rather than to promote and protect a particular political ideology, and the resulting public outrage forced the governing bodies to change course and establish the first doping control enforcement agencies.

These reforms worked to the benefit of the next generation of women in our sport, but the damage was done to the female competitors of the 70s, 80s and 90s who were denied the recognition and opportunities they deserved, many of whom are still struggling with the effects of this injustice today. It is so sad to see that today’s women are now faced with this same horrific injustice under the façade of gender equity.

The irony is that the governing bodies are imposing inequity on the sport in the name of equity.

The effects of this inequity reach well beyond the swimmer who is denied the gold medal or is denied an opportunity to compete in the finals. ALL female participants are affected. I did not attend the 2022 Women’s NCAA Championships, but I have talked with many coaches and swimmers who did. A normal championship competition is characterized by an enthusiastic, high energy environment where the athletes eagerly embrace the opportunity to reap the rewards for countless hours of hard work and preparation. In contrast, by all accounts, the atmosphere in the 2022 championships was demoralizing, with most of the women wondering how this could be happening. Rather than a cause for celebration, the 2022 championships was characterized by anger, resentment and frustration. Furthermore, the coaches and swimmers have been threatened with severe consequences if they speak out against this injustice.

If it doesn’t end soon, the devastating effects of this inequity will filter down into the high school and age group levels of competition with young women being denied college scholarships and recognition they have earned at all levels of the sport. Regardless of the developmental level, when athletes believe that the playing field is not level, that the deck is stacked against them and that some of their competitors are unfairly advantaged; they will lose all incentive to participate.

The vast majority of people in sport and in the public domain see this for what it is. When they have the courage to speak their minds like the women from the University of Arizona who have voiced their opposition, it will end. Let’s hope that happens sooner rather than later.

Dennis Pursley
5x Olympic Coach
American Swimming Coaches Association Hall of Fame

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

Subscribe
Notify of
avatar
28 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
avatar
Ken
1 month ago

It is nice to see someone speak up. The belief that men should be allowed to compete against women is absurd. And it starts with the fantasy that a man can somehow become a woman. He cannot and that should be the end of it. People are entitles to live in their fantasy world but should not expect others to join in.

avatar
John
1 month ago

Cue hundreds (thousands?) of comments that all have been said many times re-L.Thomas this year. Lots of people will make lots of comments that are true or untrue but, because they cannot be bothered scrolling through hundreds, they will think they are the first to say it. (E.g. have a separate category for transgender). Then there will be those who love ‘projecting’ and think that not wanting one trans person to indulge in a sporting activity must automatically think that is the same as ‘hating’ all trans people everywhere. I suppose it would be too much to expect some new ideas and thoughts?
Btw It has become increasingly fashionable in recent years to trot out ‘we all knew about the East Germans.’ Really? Shirley Babashoff was almost a lone voice at the media at the time it really mattered.

avatar
Klaire
1 month ago

Well, then, I guess I’m calling for the end of Pursley’s participation in any sports (of any kind) as well! Notice that I have provided as much legitimate evidence as Pursley has in support of my demand as well.

avatar
Johnson
1 month ago

Thank you for staying the obvious. More people must do exactly this. Change the name from women’s sports to XX chromosome sports and let’s get back to sanity.

avatar
Barb
1 month ago

Why not have Trans create their own teams, like trans women teams or trans men teams, for fare competition. Problem solved. Let’s not make a mountain out of a mole hill…..geeeze. Let people be who they want to be. Let’s be real!!!!

avatar
Melon Dash
1 month ago

Thank you, Dennis Pursley.
This is common sense. Who argues with common sense? What’s going on when someone argues with the obvious?

Fear is going on when someone argues with the obvious. But if there’s fear, there’s lack of understanding. I don’t think anyone wants trans people to not be able to participate. They simply cannot be given the gold medal. Or any medal. Or be called the winner. What’s the matter with that? They get to swim, and the rightful, best competitors get to win and medal. Trans (man to woman) has an advantage that cannot be denied or pandered to. Where are our boundaries?

Fair is fair. Gently take back Lia’s medal, give it to Emma, and set things right. Lia, if she’s an adult, will understand and agree with this. Maybe she will offer this, herself. If not, she’ll learn one day. It’s not our job to explain it.

Big love for the swimming community (and the nation) for grappling with big questions. Now, let’s do the right thing. Lia, will you present the medal to Emma? With grace and an open heart?

avatar
Jane
1 month ago
Reply to  Melon Dash

As a woman swimmer, a man swimming much faster than me and my female competitors, whether that man is called the “winner” or not, would be completely demoralizing.

Women aren’t responsible for men’s feelings. So either these men swim against other men or they don’t swim at all. It’s not our problem.

avatar
xyz
1 month ago

Amen. Thank you for speaking up.

avatar
T Hill
1 month ago

Thanks for sharing Denny – right on, much needed for all. Protect women’s sports.

avatar
X SWIMMER
1 month ago

While I completely agree with the overall stance here…it is getting very frustrating hearing people say that Lia was only a “mediocre male swimmer” #1.. you can’t compare the times he’s going now to other men. Even though I agree the hormone treatment can’t take away all his male advantages, it does have a negative effect on overall performance. #2. As a male swimmer in 2019 Lia’s 1650 time was top 35 in the entire country.. that’s WAY better than a mediocre male swimmer. At least get the facts right. In reality it’s even more insane that he was one of the fastest men in the entire country in the 1650 and now is racing against women.

avatar
Mike Lurz
1 month ago
Reply to  X SWIMMER

All of these arguments ultimately fail to deride the singular argument from some in the transgender community that simply view themselves as completely equal to their target gender. Lia’s argument is simply: I am a women. Period. And I should be permitted to race against my own gender. I don’t see how to argue against this.

avatar
Jane
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike Lurz

How to argue against it? Make Lia prove he’s a woman.

avatar
Veritas
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike Lurz

War is Peace
Freedom is Slavery
Ignorance is Strength
Lia Thomas is a Woman

How can anyone possibly disagree with that?

avatar
Veritas
1 month ago
Reply to  X SWIMMER

Most college swimmers wish they were as mediocre as Will Thomas was in 2019.

avatar
Maren
1 month ago
Reply to  X SWIMMER

Agreed. Being in the top 35 in the mile is impressive but Lia’s 500 Freestyle times in mens swimming was not as competitive. Lia still was recruited by Division 1 colleges and landed at Penn as a male. I have a daughter who swims the 200, 500 and the 1650 at a division one college in the Patriot League.. She trains so hard for her times. She is an average height and weight and considered small for most female swimmers. It is unfair for my daughter to swim in the same events with Lia or other biological males. The trans community needs to have their own category or should swim with their biological gender. Lia has been swimming since she was a very young boy. She knows this sport is all about the times. A fraction of a second makes the difference between going to finals or not. Going to the podium, NCAA’s etc. Competing as a female gave her a distinct advantage which she knew would help her achieve her swimming goals. We are putting biological females at a disadvantage now in sports. Thank you Coach Pursley.

avatar
KBR
1 month ago
Reply to  X SWIMMER

Agreed. Sub 15 minutes in the 1650 is not mediocre.

Last edited 1 month ago by KBR
avatar
Mike Lurz
1 month ago

Lia believes she is a woman and equal to all women. Unfortunately, I don’t see how this belief can be argued against. Until this fundamental, persinal statement can be addressed she and people like her will win the debate.

avatar
Bill Price
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike Lurz

Biology is not based on belief and that has been the crux of this argument from the start. If a trans women says, “I am a woman” the politically correct thing to do is to believe her if not champion her. In most cases this would not matter in society in any way. However, we know she’s not REALLY a woman and when faced with a situation where her biology matters, like in sports, we have to dismiss the delusion and use some common sense. The problem is that there is a ‘side’ to the argument that doesn’t see it this way, if you say you are a woman then that’s it. Period. You are a woman. Common sense doesn’t work on this group. Pursley and many others before him are correct. There is no other solution.

avatar
Veritas
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike Lurz

Sure, Lia will win the debate if you ignore facts, truth, biology and reality and focus on his feelings instead. Although, even there, there are good reasons to believe that mutilating, sterilizing and giving cancer causing drugs as a treatment for confusion is medically or ethically proper. I suspect the doctors using these treatments today will eventually be grouped with the ones that sterilized people deemed to be too foolish to have children 100 years ago.

avatar
KBR
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike Lurz

People with anorexia nervosa believe they are fat. When they draw a picture of themselves, it is a fat person. Health care professionals do not treat them as if their belief is true when in fact they are starving to death. A statement of belief is not necessarily a statement of truth.

avatar
Sandy
1 month ago

Thanks for publishing this opinion.

avatar
Suzanne G Smith
1 month ago

Leah Thomas is a coward and he couldn’t win swimming with men so he had to swim against girls so that he can win

avatar
Thomas Peterson
1 month ago

I have not heard of any trans men suddenly dominating any sport after making the transition from female to male. As far back as Renee Richards we have seen the trans female with some prior talent suddenly land among the elite in women’s competition. While being ranked in the Top 35 is admirable, it does not get one in the finals, let alone on the podium. Prior physique matters, otherwise where are the trans male examples?

avatar
KBR
1 month ago

The title is incorrect. This is not a call to end transgender participation in sport. Instead it is a call to advocate that transgender athletes participate in their biological birth category. Or all transgender athletes participate in the men’s category which will be considered “open”. No one is advocating that transgender athletes not be allowed to participate in sport.

avatar
Terre Christensen
1 month ago

Excellent comments.

avatar
KRW
1 month ago

Thank you coach Pursley for stepping up and stating the obvious. This editorial is what is “brave”. We need more coaches and athletes to do the same. Well done coach.

avatar
P. Hicks
1 month ago

He’s right. It is inexcusable that this was ever allowed and it needs to stop now. The lack of respect towards female athletes and iindifference towards what is fair to women in favor of men with pretended identities is appalling.

avatar
Seth
1 month ago

I would be curious to know if any of the people writing articles, or commenting, have had any real, meaningful, and lengthy experience with a transgender person, whether they are an athlete or not. This is separate from beliefs in whether their participation in athletics is considered fair.

28
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x