Nancy Hogshead-Makar Explains Problems With Lia Thomas Situation

nancy hogshead

Nancy Hogshead-Makar Explains Problems With Lia Thomas Situation

Nancy Hogshead-Makar knows all about being a champion in the pool, and championing for the rights of female athletes. A four-time medalist at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, Hogshead-Makar has long fought for equality in women’s sports and is the head of Champion Women, which advocates for girls and women in sports. Hogshead-Makar wrote the following editorial in response to the controversy surrounding transgender swimmer Lia Thomas.

Inclusion and fairness are two vital values in the world of sports.

Transgender women should be allowed to compete in women’s athletics, so long as these individuals can show that they’ve mitigated the athletic advantages that come with male puberty.

lia-thomas-penn, transgender

Lia Thomas

As an Olympic champion and as a civil rights lawyer, I can assure you that there is nothing fair about transgender woman Lia Thomas competing for the University of Pennsylvania in NCAA swimming.

Worse, her domination of the ‘women’s sports’ category is doing nothing to engender greater empathy for inclusive practices throughout society for the trans community.

I swam on the U.S. National Team for nine years, from 1976–1984, the same years that East German swimmers dominated women’s competitions by cheating with anabolic steroids.

I was able to win three Olympic gold medals and a silver medal because the East Germans boycotted the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games.

We all knew they were cheating. The boycott announcement was a relief; I knew I’d have a fair shot at winning.

My Olympic gold medals changed the trajectory of my life.

Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination, permits sex-segregation in sport – which means that, for the most part, men compete against men, and women compete against women.

Title IX gave me a fair opportunity to win and set records, as well as access to money, accolades, and leadership opportunities.

If Congress and courts had forbidden sex-segregated sports, the way race and religious segregation is prohibited, I would have qualified for my high school team, but I’d never have been the Hall of Famer that I became.

I doubt I’d have competed past high school.

Now imagine if all schools were only responsible for sponsoring one sports team and they put their best students — regardless of gender — on that team.

How many girls and women would make it?

For sure, millions of girls and women would lose out on the educational experience that participation in sports provides. An experience which is also linked to economic success and life-long health.

nancyhogsheadmakar

Nancy Hogshead-Makar – Photo Courtesy: PlayTheGame

Trans women should compete with biological women, so long as they can demonstrate that they have lost their sex-linked, male-puberty advantage prior to competition in the women’s category.

Lia Thomas cannot make that demonstration.

While she has apparently been complying with NCAA rules requiring hormone therapy for over 2 ½ years now, she is still competing with an unfair advantage.

How do we know Lia Thomas’ performances aren’t fair?

The average differential in the men’s and women’s ‘A’ standard times for NCAA championship qualification is 11.41%; meaning the women’s times are 11%+ slower than the men’s qualification times.

About the same differential occurs if you’re looking at almost any group of swimming records or qualification times between men and women, including regional or USA Swimming qualification times, American records, world records, NCAA records.

The gaps between men and women are generally larger in the sprints than they are in the long-distance events.

So, how big is that 11% advantage in swimming times for male swimmers?

Enormous.

To put it in perspective, Olympic superstar Michael Phelps held just a .08% of an advantage over his U.S. teammate and rival Ian Crocker in the 100 butterfly in the 2004 Olympics.

But Phelps held a 12.62% advantage over the women’s gold medalist, Australian Petria Thomas.

Phelps’ advantage over women equates to over 150 times more than the advantage that Phelps had over his male competitors.

If he had that same 12.62% advantage over his male competitors, he would have swam 6.47 seconds faster than he did to win the gold, or a time of 44.78 seconds.

Meanwhile, the gap between first and eighth in the men’s Olympic final was a tiny gap of just 1.31 seconds.

Lia Thomas, however, is not 11% slower, she is only 2.6% slower than she was pre-transition in the 200-yard freestyle, and just 5.76% slower in the 500-yard freestyle.

That is NOT mitigation. It is NOT fair.

I should add that it isn’t Lia’s fault.

The problem is with the NCAA’s rules that permit Penn to keep her on their women’s team.

(Prior to the NCAA recently passing its transgender determination rules to USA Swimming, the governing body for college sports followed this rule).

“A trans female treated with testosterone suppression medication may continue to compete on the men’s team but may not compete on the women’s team without changing it to a mixed team status until completing one year of testosterone suppression treatment.”

But ‘one year of testosterone suppression treatment’ was not sufficient to level the playing field between Thomas and her female competitors.

If seven-time U.S. Olympic champion Caeleb Dressel transitioned and was somehow able to mitigate the advantage he gained during male puberty, including any legacy advantage, and then broke women’s swimming events, I’d think this outcome was fair.

Dressel is, after all, a once-in-a-generation athlete.

But if Thomas breaks Olympic gold medalists Missy Franklin or Katie Ledecky’s NCAA swimming records, that outcome is grossly unfair.

Thomas was never in that category of standout athlete for the many years she competed as a male.

Thomas is proving that the advocates who assured the NCAA and their member schools that male puberty could be rolled back in a single year after consistent hormone treatment were wrong.

The rules should follow the evidence, and in this case it is clear: Thomas should not be in head-to-head competition with biological females.

2020 research on transgender women athletes by Emma Hilton and Tommy Lundberg concluded that: “The biological advantage, most notably in terms of muscle mass and strength, conferred by male puberty and thus enjoyed by most transgender women is only minimally reduced when testosterone is suppressed as per current sporting guidelines for transgender athletes.”

Thomas still qualifies and could compete in the men’s category, or she could be permitted to compete in an exhibition race (where her results would not count) until the evidence and science catches up with sports practices.

Carrie Steinseifer and Nancy Hogshead at the 1984 Olympics – Photo Courtesy – Swimming World Magazine

In all my years competing with East German women who were doped to the gills, they were only slightly better than the best biological women; not one of them were competitive with men.

Moreover, if I had tested positive for testosterone, I probably would have suffered a four-year suspension from international competition.

But if I tested positive twice? I’d be banned for life.

Because the World Anti-Doping (Agency) knows that long-term testosterone use produces legacy effects that last much longer than just during the time it is used.

Critics of mine will likely ask: what about the goals of transgender inclusion in sport?

We know that transgender students are subject to bullying and high rates of suicide.

The argument is that girls and women should step aside and make way for transgender athletes to compete in the ‘girls’ and women’s’ sports categories, considering the blatant discrimination they face.

I say — no.

Girls and women shouldn’t give up their hard-won sports opportunities, no matter how real the harms suffered by transgender athletes.

Allowing transgender women to change the meaning of the women’s category makes as much sense as allowing 180-pound athletes into the 120-pound weight category, because larger athletes were subject to awful bullying and harassment.

Or allowing adults to compete against children, or only permitting impoverished nations compete in the Olympics.

Sport has been set up as binary with males and females, and sport needs to adapt by adding new events and classifications, rather than throwing out the meaning of the ‘girls’ and women’s’ categories.

Rather than trying to squeeze transgender athletes into one-of-two categories, male or female, sport needs to adapt.

I’ve now been an advocate for Title IX, the federal law requiring schools to prohibit sex discrimination, since the 1984 Olympics when I won my medals.

As a civil rights lawyer, I run Champion Women, a non-profit that provides legal advocacy for girls and women in sports. We produce data — for athletes, families, alumni and donors – which demonstrates just how badly 90% of colleges and universities are discriminating against women.

In total, women are denied over 183,000 opportunities to play collegiate sports, they’re denied over a billion dollars in athletic scholarships, and hundreds and millions of dollars in treatment, meaning women aren’t being given equal facilities, locker rooms, medical care, publicity, travel, and so forth.

I’ve never met a single female athlete that couldn’t list the ways they’re getting second-class treatment as compared to their male football or basketball players.

In those 38 years, I’ve never heard a single man say, ‘Oh you women face such overwhelming sex discrimination throughout society, particularly in sexual harassment and violence. Here, take our athletic facilities and scholarships.’

Quite the opposite.

The unwritten rule is that women’s sports can exist, so long as not a single male is harmed by women’s inclusion.

And yet, notice that women are expected to graciously move over and let trans athlete-inclusion change the meaning of the ‘women’s sports’ category.

It is sexist; we’d never allow the meaning of NCAA ‘men’s sports’ category to change so that current NFL and NBA teams could be included.

We’d never allow 25-year-old men to compete in boy’s high school events. And we would never tell those boys to just ‘work harder’ if they wanted to win.

I am ready to hear men’s outrage. I am ready for men to step up and make sports equality happen for women’s sports.

Lia Thomas has shown all of us that the current rules are not fair and forcing her into the women’s category only engenders resentment.

That doesn’t mean, however, that transgender athletes should be excluded from the many benefits of sport.

Instead, sport must adapt in creative ways that are not harmful to the women’s category.

If you agree with me and the Women’s Sports Policy Working Group, please sign in support here, and share!

42 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
avatar
STEPHANIE FRITH
7 months ago

Best article yet on this subject. Fact-based and data driven, I am not sure how ANYONE can argue with the points she makes here. It is UNFAIR and the rules should be changed to allow biological females to still actually have an opportunity for their hard work to pay off, without being accused of being “anti-trans”.

avatar
LA
7 months ago

Amen!

avatar
Veronica makine
7 months ago

I am a transgender women 72 years old . I started my transition 12 years ago . I think this article is excellent. I was national team coach in sport of swimming from 1978 – 2010. I had swimmers in every Oolympic trials from 1972 – 2016 I had swimmers on olympic teams from 1984 Thru 2012 . 2 women won gold medals and one male won gold. I believe includitivty and also egual opportunity . Nancy hogs head has been a relentless advocate for what is right and fair. She has been as fierce advocate as competitor . She has given of herself in so many ways to shape the female opportunities in life . Please listen to her and I pray this issue will come up with a balanced solution. Title 9 hurt male olympic sports when initially put up but in the long run female and male olympic sports have flourished over the last 40 years . Veronica Malone Vice President of PFLAG KC long time advocate advocate for transgender and lgbtq community and especially youth . Professional name Peter d Malone

avatar
Kip Pope
6 months ago

Peter, Excellent post with great credentials.

Here’s the comment I just posted on Nancy’s letter to Penn regarding my take on Title 9:

“I swam on a university men’s team that was later dropped due to Title IX’s goal of increasing women athletes’ opportunities to a parity with men’s. The NCAA has now cruelly inverted Title IX’s supportive status of biological female athletes by permitting transgender women to compete against biological females. Tragically, the biological female athletes are losing back more than the decades of hard-fought gains that they made under Title IX: When men’s and women’s teams were separate, at least the women’s records came from their female ranks, whereas now their records may come from former male athletes and their unfair physical advantages. For example, the Penn women’s team records in fully four of the fourteen NCAA-recognized swimming events have been broken within weeks by a former male swimmer. No longer will biological female’s swim records in those events grace the walls of the Penn natatorium. I can’t reconcile this with the so-called “fairness” that Penn and the NCAA falsely preach. Fair to whom? This certainly isn’t fair to the athletes that the NCAA formerly protected and supported.”

Kip Pope

avatar
Megan Redwine
4 months ago

Very brave response. As a mental health nurse practitioner I AFFIRM all persons rights to be WHO THEY ARE. This situation, though, has put the cart so far before the horse scientifically speaking that women and the trans community will be set back years. Way to pit a historically marginalized group against the most vulnerable population in our nation aside from children. I’m so pissed and heartbroken for all of us and the progress we’ve made. I hope that ALL of the women, both cis and trans, can do what we have always done best and block out the noise, join hands, and come up with a real solution.

avatar
John Eberly
7 months ago

Now Swimming World Censors you on facebook if you do not agree with them now….what a world we live in today.

avatar
Pat
6 months ago

There is obviously a third category of athletes when divided by sex. Why can’t there just beq a transgender team or separate entry.

avatar
tom trapp
7 months ago

Very well written, and articulated clearly . agree with her analogy.

avatar
Roger Kahn
7 months ago

Hooray for Nancy Hogshead! A great review. I am a former Penn swimmer (men’s team), and I feel the current situation with Lia is very unfair to the women. Back in the 70’s, when the Penn’s women’s team first was able to train in the same pool the men swam in, I supported the absolute fairness of their being able to use the same pool the men did. I stand with them again against the unfairness of Lia’s being able to take their records and glory. The current NCAA rules need to be modified to afford appropriate protection to naturally-born female athletes while still protecting the rights of the transgender athletes

avatar
Tammy R
7 months ago

Should not be allowed to swim against female swimmers. Article is a much needed eye opener.

avatar
Theresa Nirenberg
7 months ago

Numbers don’t lie. As stated in her article, more needs to be done to protect the integrity of womens sports.

avatar
KRW
7 months ago

It cannot be possible, for someone smart enough to be attending Penn, to not know for a fact, that they enjoy a huge competitive advantage over the natural
born females they are racing against. Transitioning with one yr of eligibility left, is a joke. You know it, I know it, and certainly Lia knows it. This should never have gotten this far. The absurdity of it all is ridiculous.

avatar
Marcia DeJohn Frazee
7 months ago
Reply to  KRW

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You for your knowledge, expertise, and clarity of perspective. My daughter swam for Penn and I appreciate your efforts
to champion these athletes rights and fairness.

avatar
George Schmidt
7 months ago
Reply to  KRW

I agree totally. Good sportsmanship means you don’t compete wihen you know you have an unfair advantage.

avatar
Anonymous
7 months ago
Reply to  KRW

Maybe Lia is just selfish and self-centered and doesn’t care about his teammates.

avatar
Karen Solimar
7 months ago

It all boils down to common sense, which is becoming a rarity in today’s society. We have a long ways to go for Women’s equality!

avatar
SY
7 months ago

THIS SOCIET HAS LOST IT’S MIND! NO PERSON BORN MALE SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO COMPETE IN WOMEN’S COMPETITION. PERIOD. WE HAVE MANY SPORT CATEGORIES FOR FAIR COMPETITION THIS NEEDS TO HAVE IT’S OWN “CATEGORY”. PERIOD

avatar
Christine Rosario
7 months ago
Reply to  SY

I totally agree. Why don’t they have a transgender swim team, one that identify themselves as male and one that identifies themselves as female. Now that would surely be fair. I would have to pull my child from competing knowing that he/she would be defeated. You cannot change what God has created and accept who you were born as. PERIOD.

avatar
Todd
7 months ago

As a man and former NCAA athlete, I have felt from the beginning it was unfair for women to have to compete with transgender athletes. Expressing that opinion immediately put me in a anti LBGTQ bigot category. It has nothing to do with that. I am all for people to find their happiness and identity. This is about fairness. Allowing this to happen is taken opportunities away from cis women. It seems like a third category of competition needs to be created to enable people of similar gender backgrounds to compete against each other. Wanting fairness for women should not be confused with anti LBGTQ sentiment.

avatar
Gabe
7 months ago
Reply to  Todd

The bottom line is the NCAA does not have the courage or leadership to say no and they fear being called out by the trans community. Create another sports category for the trans community and end this insanity.

avatar
Anonymous
7 months ago

The bottom line is the NCAA does not have the courage or leadership to say no and they fear being called out by the trans community. Create another sports category for the trans community and end this insanity.

avatar
Ruth
7 months ago

Thank you for so clearly stating why transgender athletes should not be included in women’s competition. Your examples comparing male, by percentage, performances to women’s and then Lia’s times make an ideal arguement for prohibiting transgender athletes from women’s sports.

I am all for inclusive situations but not at the expense of others losing their chance for honest achievements. The answer is for all sports organizations to create divisions for participants who are transgender.

avatar
Bruce
7 months ago

An effectively written, well considered opinion. Thank you – for this welcome, and much needed clarity.

avatar
Lisa Wilson
7 months ago

I do not think a trans woman should compete with biological female women. Create a category for trans women so they compete on equal ground.

avatar
TRock
7 months ago

There is a very simple solution to this issue. Men’s division becomes the open division, anyone can compete in the open division: men, women, trans. Women’s division includes only biological women.

Problem solved

avatar
Shoudawouda
7 months ago
Reply to  TRock

Excellent idea!

avatar
Dave
7 months ago
Reply to  TRock

Really good idea.

avatar
Suzy Heffernan
7 months ago

Great article ! By all means , transgender athletes have a right to compete, but perhaps they should have a category of their own . That makes the most sense to me . It is not fair for transgender ( former men ) to Compete against woman. Her current domination is proof of this and it could change all that woman have worked for .

avatar
CDL
7 months ago

Bodies compete against bodies
Identities do not compete against identities.

avatar
Liz Daggmarr
7 months ago

Well said, it’s the fair play rule. And this is not fair.

avatar
De
7 months ago

Some don’t even transition. They just compete with the females and win every time. Connecticut High School rules don’t include needing the suppression of testosterone. The two runners from Connecticut who won every race, received scholarships and many awards have never transitioned.

avatar
terfblaster
6 months ago
Reply to  De

lies.
those girls in ct were in fact beaten by other girls in races.
bigots are gross, and hogshead is a terf.

avatar
Dave Samuelsohn
7 months ago

I’m disappointed in Lia for dodging the questions about fairness saying simply that the NCAA says it’s fair. The NCAA is wrong and so is the University of Pennsylvania. Lia was a decent swimmer as a male competitor – middle of the pack. After her transition – as a female – she is near to breaking records. I’m sorry but I don’t see how that’s fair to all the other competitors. The NCAA needs to reconsider their criteria and Lia needs to take more responsibility for what this is doing to the sport she loves.

avatar
Patrick Gray
7 months ago

I couldn’t agree more. I’ve been a male athlete all my life and have both sons and daughters that are athletes. I just can’t comprehend how people that fought for title IX can now support this ridiculous idea that trans men are the same as biological women. It completely obliterates the spirit of title IX and will do immeasurable harm to women’s sports.

avatar
Colin
7 months ago

Unfair advantages RIP to all the real women

avatar
Ireland
7 months ago

This is absolutely such a disadvantage. I support the Women being able to swim with those by there side that have been there for years, there is such a disadvantage to these WOMEN!!

avatar
José munoz
6 months ago

So everyone is talking how unfair is Lia competing against biological women, which it is not fair in my opinion. Now my question is how fair is for a 5’3” girl competing against 6’1” girls both biological?
There has been amazing suimmers doing very well until age 14 where most girls are developed but girls that are not as taller as other ones lost the love to the sport. Is there anything to help this girls? A boxer who weight is 50kg won’t fight a 100 kg boxer.

avatar
Craig Michie
4 months ago
Reply to  José munoz

Boxers are Matched by several factors… Age, Weight and Experience. That is how Amateur Boxing is set up, and the objective is to provide an even playing field to both athletes. Just this year, USA Boxing is now allowing the youngest Boxers to Box in a mixed environment where “Pee-Wees” 8, 9 -10 year old Boys and Girls can Box against each other. This is new for 2022 and will be a new opportunity to provide participation to more Female Boxers as finding matches for young Female Boxers can be difficult as there are fewer Females participating. It will be interesting to see and hear about how this opportunity is received and if it will provide a Gateway to more Female Boxers getting to participate, or ,even at this age, it results in an unexpected outcome. Perhaps it might be Good if Nancy Hogshead-Makar could provide a perspective regarding this idea that USA Boxing is attempting in 2022? Many Thanks in Advance for any Feedback!!

avatar
Anne Frayne
6 months ago

I have coached two transgender swimmers and atttended a meet with another transgender swimmer. I agree totally with Nancy!

The XY chromosome plays a much bigger role than just testosterone. It is simply not fair for men to compete with women. In fact, it is downright ridiculous.

avatar
terfblaster
6 months ago

jfc, all you bigots are just frakking gross.
terfs are lower than baggers.
all the fancy rich white people involved in swimming are clearly scum.

avatar
Michelle Farley
6 months ago

Nancy is correct! As a former division I tower at Wisconsin and now a lawyer for 30 years I agree with her viewpoint as well-documented and expressed here! And I will continue to fight for the rights of girls and women in sports. It’s sad that so many remain silent while processing to be about womens’ rights.

avatar
Denise
5 months ago

Well said.