Biological Sex Matters in Sports


Lainey O’Neil, Staff Writer

Lia Thomas is a transgender swimmer for the University of Pennsylvania.  After three years of competing with very limited success as a member of the  men’s swim team, she now competes on the university’s women’s team and has attracted widespread media attention for her complete domination of nearly every event in which she enters. Before transitioning, Thomas was ranked #462 nationally in men’s collegiate swimming. She now is ranked #1 in women’s swimming and recently won the NCAA Championship in the 500-yard freestyle, becoming the first transgender athlete to do so.

Transgender athletes participating in women’s sports has been a widely debated topic in America over the past year, sparked in large part by Thomas’ success in the pool. The question of whether biological males should or should not compete in women’s sports is perhaps the most important issue today in collegiate athletics.

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In America, we’re fortunate to enjoy the freedom to make personal choices for ourselves, including our gender identity. I support an individual’s right and choice to be who they want to be, express themselves freely, and choose the life path that will make them happiest. We are so lucky to live in a country where each of us is free to express our own individuality and live authentically.

However, as an athlete, I have a real problem with transgender athletes competing in women’s sports.

Allowing biological males to compete in women’s sports unfairly disadvantages talented, gifted, extremely hard-working female athletes. The hopes, goals, and dreams of far too many girls and women are being shattered.

The whole reason sports have always been separated by biological sex is because of the obvious, undeniable, significant physical differences between men and women. The truth is that males are built differently than females. It’s biology. It’s science. When we allow biological males to compete against biological females, these differences give transgender athletes an unfair advantage that biological girls and women simply can’t overcome. No matter how hard they train, no matter how much time and effort they pour into their sports, no matter how great the sacrifices they make to be their best.

According to BBC Future, biological males may have up to 40% more upper-body strength and 33% more lower body strength than biological females. Males also produce much more of the hormone testosterone than females, which increases muscle mass and increases energy levels. Females average 15-70 nanograms per deciliter of testosterone, while males average 270-1070 nanograms per deciliter, says Medicine Net. The ratio isn’t even close. Men also have greater breathing capacities than women. The volume of females’ lungs are normally 10-12% smaller than the volume of lungs in men who are the same height and age.

Given these significant natural advantages – more muscle mass, larger skeletal structures, more lung volume, more testosterone, etc. – biological males have numerous athletic advantages over females. They are generally faster, stronger, and more explosive.

If you support transgender athletes competing in women’s sports, you’re safe. Speak out against transgender athletes, though, and you’re likely to be labeled a transphobe.”

Some supporters of allowing transgender athletes to compete in women’s sports insist that the testosterone-suppressing drugs taken during gender transition therapy minimize the athletic advantages of biological males. This is totally unconvincing and untrue. The fact is that no amount of testosterone suppressants can erase the physical advantages a biological male develops by going through puberty and adolescence. By the time a boy becomes a man, many of the advantages can’t be reversed.

The promotion of transgenderism and transgender rights is a widely trending topic in America, and it seems the media is very one-sided when it comes to this topic. If you support transgender athletes competing in women’s sports, you’re safe. Speak out against transgender athletes competing against girls and women, though, and, you’re likely to be labeled a transphobe. As a result, many female athletes – including those who actually have been unfairly hurt by the involvement of biological men in their sports – have been scared to speak out. No one wants to get her name tarnished as transphobic. They’ve pretty much been silenced.

Thankfully, this is beginning to change;  female athletes, moms, dads, and some prominent national figures are finally finding their voices and speaking out against this situation.

University of Virginia swimmer Emma Weyant finished second behind Thomas at the NCAA Championships, trailing by 1.75 seconds. This time was Weyant’s personal best and the third fastest time in UVA history. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared Emma Weyant, a Florida native, as the “rightful winner” of the race.

A Virginia Tech swimmer described how her teammate just barely missed the cut to qualify for the NCAA Championships in the 500-yard freestyle because of Thomas’ participation. The biological woman finished 17th in the heat, with only the top 16 securing places at the Championships.

“I have a teammate who did not make finals today because she was just bumped out of finals – and it’s heartbreaking to see someone who went through puberty as a male and has the body of a male be able to absolutely blow away the competition,” the Virginia Tech swimmer said.

The parents of an Auburn University swimmer who had to swim against Thomas in the 100 and 200-yard freestyle explained what Thomas’ participation meant for the rest of the athletes. “They asked how he felt about winning, when really, how did the rest of the women feel about having the stress of dealing with this, knowing they have to swim against him?” the father asked.

Ivy League parents also wrote a letter of protest to the NCAA about the policy allowing transgender athletes to compete in women’s sports, and the unfairness to biological women. Part of the letter says, “As parents of Ivy League swimmers, from men’s and women’s teams across the league, we have witnessed firsthand the utter abandonment of women and girls this year. We are furious, and most everyone in our community is furious, as well. Parents, coaches, swimmers, and rational, logical people know this is grossly unfair. Female swimmers have not consented to this. In fact, many of them expressly said ‘no.’ What response did they receive? Be quiet. A new ideology ruled. ‘Transwomen are women’ no exceptions; the girls’ concerns: ‘transphobic.’ They courageously spoke to coaches about the injustice they faced in the pool. They expressed how uncomfortable the locker rooms were with male nudity. When they were turned away, they went to their athletic departments and administration. They were turned away again.”

I’m supportive of every individual choosing how they wish to live, but in sports, there are definite differences between biological male and women that cannot be ignored.”

One of the most influential and successful female athletes of all time also has spoken out on this topic: Martina Navratilova. Navratilova is a retired tennis player with 18 Grand Slam singles titles, a previous World #1 ranking holder, one of the first openly gay athletes, and a LGBTQ rights activist. She believes the NCAA is wrong to allow biological males to compete in women’s sports.

“I don’t believe Lia should be allowed to swim, but again, she is going by rules. So the rules need to change,” Navratilova said. “The rules need to change because this is not a fair fight.”

Perhaps the most interesting and knowledgeable critic of allowing transgender athletes to compete in women’s sports is Caitlyn Jenner, a transgender woman. But Jenner isn’t just any transgender woman; before transitioning , Bruce Jenner was a gold medalist in the decathlon at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. The decathlon combines 10 track and field events that require speed, strength, endurance, agility, and skill. Jenner won gold, set a new world record, and was once described by Time Magazine as the “world’s greatest athlete.”

Jenner today is a transgender woman who has been a women’s rights advocate in athletics and has protested Lia Thomas’ involvement in women’s swimming.

“We need to protect women’s sports,” Jenner said. “I feel sorry for the other athletes that are out there, especially at Penn or anyone she’s competing against. It’s not good for women’s sports. It’s unfortunate that this is happening.”

We need more people who will stand up for the girls and women who don’t make a team, don’t qualify for a big event, don’t win a trophy or medal, don’t earn a scholarship, don’t make All-State or All-American, or don’t see their dreams come true despite making all the sacrifices and putting in all the blood, sweat, and tears because of the involvement of transgender athletes in women’s sports.

It’s time for supporters of girls and women to speak out. Make their voices heard. Moms, you see your girls working so hard to be the best athletes we can be and to achieve our goals, so please stand up for us. Dads, your daughters need your support, so please speak on our behalf. Feminists, if you honestly support girls and women, you have to start speaking out about this , because our rights truly are at stake.

I’m supportive of every individual choosing how they wish to live, and living life authentically, free from discrimination and harassment, but in sports, there are definite differences between biological male and women that cannot be ignored, and all biological girls and women want is to compete on a level playing field. As transgender female golfer from Denmark Mianne Bagger recently said, “Sport is about physical ability. It’s not about discrimination, it’s not just about equality and equal access. It is a physical ability. Now, if you’ve got one group – males – that are on average stronger, taller, faster, as opposed to women, there has to be a divide. There has to be a division.”

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