Critics Blast UPenn Nominating Lia Thomas for NCAA Woman of the Year Award

The University of Pennsylvania has faced criticism this week for nominating Lia Thomas, whose success in college swim meets fueled debate about transgender women's inclusion in athletics, for the NCAA Woman of the Year award.

Thomas, a transgender woman, emerged as a star swimmer for the college this year, becoming the first trans athlete to win a NCAA Division I title in March after finishing first in the women's 500-yard freestyle championship.

However, her success has sparked debate about how to fairly include transgender women on women's athletic teams. Critics have argued Thomas, who transitioned in 2019, has an unfair advantage over her cisgender teammates and should be required to compete on the men's team. Her supporters, on the other hand, say trans women competing on the team of the gender they identify with is important to validate their identity and should not be an issue since Thomas meets the NCAA's criteria for trans women athletes.

Lia Thomas award nomination sparks debate
Critics blasted the University of Pennsylvania nominating Lia Thomas for the NCAA Woman of the Year award. Thomas is a transgender woman whose victories in swim meets has fueled debate about how to fairly include trans women in sports. Above, Thomas speaks to a reporter in Atlanta on March 17. Justin Casterline/Getty Images

The NCAA announced on Friday the more than 240 nominations for its 2022 Woman of the Year award. Thomas was included on the list, prompting some of her critics to take to social media to express their disdain over her nomination.

Riley Gaines, a University of Kentucky swimmer who was also nominated for the award, tweeted: "Being the real girl in that photo and also University of Kentucky's nominee for NCAA WOTY, this is yet another slap in the face to women. First a female national title and now nominated for the pinnacle award in collegiate athletics. The @NCAA has made this award worthless."

Piers Morgan called the decision "absolutely, mind-numbingly, ridiculous."

"I support inclusion and equality in sports. What I don't support is a person born a male can dominate female sports. Allowing this takes away opportunities for girls and women in sports in America. Lia Thomas could and should play on the men's teams at Penn," tweeted Michigan radio host Bill Simonson.

"The country that recognized women as equal to men, and championed women's rights is the same country allowing men to beat us and strip away our rights," wrote Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican.

Nancy Hogshead-Makar, who won three Olympic gold medals in the 1984 Summer Olympics, tweeted that she also opposes Thomas' nomination by tweeting "no."

Representative Lauren Boebert, a Colorado Republican, tweeted: "Men should not be in women's sports. Men should not be able to be Woman of the Year. Men are not able to get pregnant. If those three statements are too hard for you to say definitively, re-evaluate your life."

Others, however, defended Thomas.

"Lia Thomas won the national championship in the 500M. There is nothing even remotely strange about her being nominated by Penn for NCAA Woman of the Year. It would in fact be absurd and problematic if they had not nominated her," tweeted author Nathan Kalman-Lamb.

Kalman-Lamb added: "The choice of 'women's rights' advocates to ally with anti-choice misogynist bigots on the question of 'fairness' in sport at the precise moment when those bigots are waging a very material war on women's bodies will never stop being wild to me."

Fallon Fox, a retired mixed martial artist, tweeted: "Much deserved for her athletic achievements and influential leadership as a woman who happens to be trans."

Megan McArdle, an opinion writer for The Washington Post wrote: "All the people freaking out about UPenn nominating Lia Thomas for NCAA "Woman of the Year": only two Ivy Leaguers even made an A final at NCAA women's swimming and diving: Thomas, and Yale's Iszac Henig, a trans man. Of course they nominated her."

Thomas' Wins Fueled Debate Over Trans Athletes

As Thomas rose to prominence due to her victories throughout the spring, the debate about transgender inclusion in sports began to see some policy changes.

Last month, FINA, swimming's worldwide governing body, announced that transgender women who transitioned after the age of 12 years old would not be allowed to compete in women's races—essentially banning most transgender women from competing.

Meanwhile, several states, have also passed laws that ban transgender women from participating on women's sports teams. Supporters of these laws argue they ensure fairness in women's sports, but many critics have criticized lawmakers for targeting transgender women, a group already vulnerable to stigma and violence.

Newsweek reached out to the University of Pennsylvania for comment.

Updated 07/16/2022 4:08 p.m. ET: This story was updated with additional information.

Updated 07/17/2022 5:26 p.m. ET: This story was updated with additional information.