Conflict and distrust between athletes has shaken the University of Pennsylvania women’s swim team as transgender swimmer Lia Thomas dominates the sport at the national level, according to Sports Illustrated.
Several people affiliated with the team spoke to Sports Illustrated under the condition that their names not be used, the outlet said. “I’m not about to be labeled as transphobic,” one swimmer reportedly said.
Team leadership has supported Thomas competing against women, and the school’s athletic director told female swimmers who were upset about competing against a biological male to consider going to therapy through the campus counseling program, according to Sports Illustrated.
About six to eight swimmers are vocally supportive of Thomas, while half of the team is opposes Thomas’ participation and the rest “have steered clear of the debate,” according to Sports Illustrated.
In an unsigned February letter, 16 of the 37 women’s team members argued Thomas had an unfair advantage and should not be allowed to compete on the women’s team.
“Biologically, Lia holds an unfair advantage over competition in the women’s category, as evidenced by her rankings that have bounced from #462 as a male to #1 as a female,” the letter said, The Washington Post first reported. “If she were to be eligible to compete against us, she could now break Penn, Ivy, and NCAA Women’s Swimming records; feats she could never have done as a male athlete.”
The women didn’t sign the letter because they feared retaliation after team leadership threatened to remove them from the team and blackball them from future jobs if they spoke to reporters, according to the Post.
Days earlier, the Penn team released an unsigned letter of support for Thomas which its leadership claimed represented “several” team members.
“These women no longer trust one another,” a Penn parent told Sports Illustrated. “Everything has fallen apart.” She was referring to an incident where two swimmers who were supportive of Thomas reportedly accused a teammate of spreading rumors after the teammate anonymously spoke to a reporter.
Penn parents have been drawn into the debate, too, and some have argued that male puberty granted Thomas an unfair advantage over female swimmers in terms of height, lung capacity, bone density and other features, according to Sports Illustrated.
“Lia is a human being who deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. But it’s not transphobic to say I disagree with where she’s swimming,” one parent told Sports Illustrated.
“We support Lia as a trans woman,” another team parent told Sports Illustrated. “What we can’t do is stand by while she rewrites records and eliminates biological women from this sport. If we don’t speak up here, it’s going to happen in college after college. And then women’s sports, as we know it, will no longer exist in this country.”
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