Commentary: Penn’s Nomination of Lia Thomas For Prestigious NCAA Award Another Insult to Women’s Sports


Penn’s Nomination of Lia Thomas For Prestigious NCAA Award Another Insult to Women’s Sports

Remember the winter and early spring when the University of Pennsylvania turned its back on fairness? Specifically, remember when the school shrugged off the concerns of the female athletes (there were numerous) on the school’s swimming roster who voiced their opposition to Lia Thomas racing for the Quakers in NCAA competition after competing as a member of the men’s program for three years? Apparently, the Ivy League school still doesn’t care about women.

Yes, the Thomas saga continues.

Last week, the NCAA released the names of the athletes nominated for the organization’s prestigious Woman of the Year Award. Among the nominees was Thomas, whose name was put forward by the University of Pennsylvania. To be eligible for the award, athletes must have “exhausted their eligibility and distinguished themselves in their community, in athletics and in academics throughout their college careers.”

Nomination Article

In March, following months of debate, Thomas concluded her collegiate career by winning the 500-yard freestyle at the NCAA Championships. She also qualified for the finals of the 100 freestyle and 200 freestyle. Throughout the season, there were arguments that Thomas’ presence in women’s sports was simply unfair, as her male-puberty advantage could not be entirely rolled back. Others argued that Thomas, now identifying as her true self, deserved the chance to compete.

Swimming World, specifically this author, argued against Thomas’ inclusion in women’s sports. Why? Because Thomas possessed multiple advantages over biological women, ranging from a greater lung capacity to bigger hands and feet to a larger heart. At the same time, we argued that Thomas deserved the chance to race in a third category. Last month, FINA – the global governing body of aquatics sports – released new guidelines that noted individuals who have undergone male puberty are ineligible to compete in the women’s category.

In presenting nominees to the NCAA, the University of Pennsylvania had to select two athletes from the hundreds which represent the Quakers in college competition. The fact that Thomas was nominated for the NCAA Woman of the Year Award only rehashes the issue of fairness that arose during the swimming season – and shows that Penn continues to devalue the work and dedication of its biological female student-athletes.

Who made the call to nominate Thomas? Was it Alanna Shanahan, Penn’s Director of Athletics? Did the decision come from a committee that was convened? Was the nomination a demand from someone high up in administration. The school should provide transparency on that topic and provide its reasoning for the choice.

By nominating Thomas, Penn has simply delivered its latest insult to women’s sports and female athletes. The first offense was allowing Thomas to compete on a women’s team, where her presence not only created uneven competition in the NCAA and Ivy League, but also robbed a deserving team member of relay slots that ultimately went to Thomas.

Now, out of the pool, Penn is still marginalizing women’s sports. Remember, each school can nominate only two female athletes for the NCAA Woman of the Year Award, so the selection process is difficult. With Thomas chosen by the university, only one slot remained. The process and Thomas’ nomination mean a deserving candidate for a highly valued honor was ignored.

Lia Thomas competing at the NCAA Championships was enough. There, she took finalist slots from a few deserving competitors and her NCAA title denied Virginia’s Emma Weyant from earning that status. For Thomas to be nominated by the University of Pennsylvania for one of the most prestigious honors in college sports – at the expense of another individual – is a display of arrogance and adds to the disrespect against women’s sports.

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