ESPN Honors Lia Thomas In Women’s History Month Segment

ESPN released a segment honoring the achievements of female athletes in observance of Women’s History Month, but included a trans-identified male swimmer known for making his female teammates uncomfortable.

The sports network honored Lia Thomas in a Sunday segment titled “Celebrating Women’s History Month.” In the segment, Thomas’ “transition” was discussed, as well as his win at the NCAA Championships in 2022. 

The ESPN clip, broadcast during their usual schedule, was set to emotional music, and featured soundbites of Thomas from interviews he has given. In the video, Thomas says he is aware that many are certain he made his “transition” so he could win swim races, but he insisted that he “transitioned to be happy.”

ESPN, like most other mainstream outlets, used “she/her” pronouns to refer to Thomas throughout.

Despite having a lackluster career in men’s swimming prior to his transition, Thomas has been smashing records in women’s swimming. He won both an Ivy League Championship and an NCAA Championship in the women’s category, and has broken a total of six women’s records. In the past, an anonymous teammate accused Thomas of having deliberately lost a race in order to downplay his physical advantage.

Female athletes, including Thomas’ own teammates, women’s rights activists, and concerned citizens, have all taken issue with Thomas’ participation and achievements in the women’s category. 

Riley Gaines, a University of Kentucky graduate and accomplished All American swimmer, reacted to Thomas’ feature by ESPN

The same day as the clip aired, Gaines tweeted: “Lia Thomas is not a brave, courageous woman who EARNED a national title. He is an arrogant, cheat who STOLE a national title from a hardworking, deserving woman.”

Gaines blamed the NCAA for giving Thomas the opportunity to compete as a male against female athletes, and called for a boycott of ESPN, stating that she would “walk out” if she worked for the sports streaming platform. 

The female athlete was forced to share the podium with Thomas in 2022 in a tie for fifth place in the 200 freestyle race. The NCAA told her that although it was a tie, they wanted Thomas to hold the fifth-place trophy and her to hold the sixth-place trophy “for a photo op.” 

Earlier this year, Gaines also revealed to media that Thomas had been exposing himself in front of his female teammates in the women’s locker rooms. Her claims echoed those from January of 2022, when anonymous female teammates told the Daily Mail that they felt “uncomfortable” with Thomas’ access to their intimate spaces. The whistleblowers reported that they have seen Thomas’ genitals, which they said he sometimes does not cover when in the presence of the women in the changing rooms.

In February of 2022, a letter was sent to the University of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia District Attorney citing potential violations of Pennsylvania law, Title IX, and the University of Pennsylvania’s Sexual Harassment, Sexual Violence, Relationship Violence and Stalking Policy as a result of the female swimmers being forced to share a changing facility with Thomas.

The letter was drafted by two women’s rights campaign groups, Women’s Declaration International and Keep Prisons Single Sex USA, citing concerns for the safety of Thomas’ female teammates.

In the past, one of Thomas’ teammates said in an interview that she hoped to have sons rather than daughters, citing a foreseen lack of opportunities in sport for girls.

“If [she has] any girls that want to play sports in college, good luck. [Their opponents] are all going to be biological men saying that they’re women… Right now we have one, but what if we had three on the team? There’d be three less girls competing.”

Thomas has been described by some as exhibiting symptoms of autogynephilia based on his online activity. Last year, internet sleuths dug up social media history linked to Thomas which included the “liking” of many posts about the disorder, which is characterized by a male experiencing sexual arousal at the thought of himself as a woman.

Thomas also “liked”  trans-identified male Fallon Fox’s photos bragging about badly injuring a woman during a fight.

Amidst growing pushback, the World Athletics recently announced they would be prohibiting transgender athletes who have undergone “male puberty” from competing in women’s world ranking competitions. During a press conference last week, World Athletics President Sebastian Coe cited scientific consideration and fairness for female athletes, stating he and the organization “believe the integrity of female category in athletics is paramount.”

While many are seeing the ban as a win, others are critical of the specifics of the ban. As it was specified that only males who have undergone “male puberty” are banned from competing against women, there are skeptics who anticipate that this wording may drive some to push puberty blocking drugs upon “transgender” children.

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Yuliah Alma

Yuliah is a former researcher and journalist at Reduxx. She lives on the American east coast, and is an avid reader and book collector.

Yuliah Alma
Yuliah Alma
Yuliah is a former researcher and journalist at Reduxx. She lives on the American east coast, and is an avid reader and book collector.