Lia Thomas controversy surrounds NCAA swimming championships, incites national debate

March 15, 2022 |

WHEN LIA THOMAS’ fingertips break the surface of the water on Thursday at the McAuley Aquatic Center in Atlanta, nobody in the 500-yard freestyle, or in any other race at the NCAA women’s swimming and diving championships, will have navigated choppier waters.

Thomas, a transgender swimmer at Penn, has sparked searing skepticism with her season-long dominance. Over the next four days, she’ll have three chances to become the first known transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division I national championship.

Although she has followed every eligibility rule and policy set forth by the NCAA, Thomas has landed at the epicenter of debate — in the pool, in the media and in statehouses across the country — about fairness and inclusion and whether those values are mutually exclusive.

Thomas is not the first transgender athlete to compete in collegiate sports, nor the first to be successful. But no one has spurred deeper division.

She might win, she might finish on the podium, she might not. But whatever the outcome, Thomas’ participation will be a victory for some and a defeat for others. Some will see it as progress and others will see it as regression. Some will cheer and some will object. Everyone, it seems, already has taken a side.



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