ESPN was widely criticized on social media over the weekend after it ran a segment celebrating Women's History Month by spotlighting transgender swimmer Lia Thomas.
Last year, Thomas, a biological male who identifies as female, became the first transgender woman to win an NCAA championship with an overpowering performance in the women's 500-yard freestyle.
Three months later, the international organization that oversees swimming competitions – FINA – passed a new rule prohibiting biological males from competing in women's competitions if they have gone through male puberty. The new rule presumably would keep Thomas from competing.
The one-minute ESPN segment opened with a graphic that said, "Celebrating Women's History Month."
ESPN celebrated Women’s History Month by promoting a special about transgender swimmer Lia Thomas……a biological male who destroyed real women in the pool. pic.twitter.com/gVLa0rz2NN— David Hookstead (@dhookstead) March 26, 2023
"The Texas native competed for three seasons on the men's swim team at the University of Pennsylvania. She began her transition after her sophomore season," the ESPN segment said. "... Thomas made her debut as a member of the women's team in December 2021."
The segment depicted images of Thomas and also included an interview.
"Being trans is not a choice," Thomas said.
Riley Gaines, an All-American swimmer at the University of Kentucky, criticized ESPN. Gaines competed against Thomas.
"Lia Thomas is not a brave, courageous woman who EARNED a national title," Gaines tweeted. "He (sic) is an arrogant, cheat who STOLE a national title from a hardworking, deserving woman. The @ncaa is responsible. … You're spineless @espn.”
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. The @ncaa is responsible.— Riley Gaines (@Riley_Gaines_) March 26, 2023
If I was a woman working at ESPN, I would walk out. You're spineless @espn #boycottESPN https://t.co/DF3n5RWsmV
Gaines' post was re-tweeted over 10,000 times and received over 50,000 likes.
Later, Gaines tweeted, "I'm so overjoyed to see more and more people feeling comfortable in publicly acknowledging how harmful the gender ideology propaganda being pushed really is (especially to women and children). Keep being bold and loud. We are the overwhelming majority." ESPN anchor Sage Steele – who has been outspoken on the issue – re-tweeted that post.
Competing as a male, Thomas ranked 65th nationally in the 500, according to Swimming World Magazine. Thomas won the event competing as a female.
Americans Oppose Biological Males in Women's Sports by 2-to-1 Margin: Poll
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Kathryn Riley/Stringer
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.