The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

In Fox interview, Olympian Caitlyn Jenner says record-breaking transgender swimmer shouldn’t compete with women

An image from a Fox News broadcast in which Olympic gold medalist Caitlyn Jenner said she thinks transgender women shouldn't be allowed to compete in women's sports. (Fox News)
Placeholder while article actions load

In a Fox News interview Wednesday, Caitlyn Jenner said she respected Ivy League swimmer Lia Thomas for coming out as a transgender woman and for transitioning.

“I respect her decision to live her life authentically — 100 percent,” the Olympic gold medalist told “America Reports” host Sandra Smith.

But, Jenner added, that “also comes with responsibility and some integrity.”

Jenner said it’s unfair for transgender women such as Thomas to compete in women’s sports. Thomas, a 22-year-old University of Pennsylvania senior, has been setting records and crushing competitors this season for the women’s swim team, re-electrifying one of more recent battles in the culture wars — how transgender athletes participate in competitive sports.

“We need to protect women’s sports,” said Jenner, who won a gold medal and set a world record in the decathlon at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.

While running for California governor, the former Olympian changed her tone on which gender-specific sports teams transgender girls can join. (Video: Joshua Carroll/The Washington Post)

Jenner, who is transgender, went on Fox as the NCAA was about to release new rules governing what transgender college athletes will have to do to compete in women’s sports. She urged the association’s board of governors to “make the right decision … to stop this right now.”

The NCAA did not take Jenner’s recommendation. Late Wednesday, the board of governors announced the association was immediately implementing a “sport-by-sport approach” in which rules governing transgender athletes’ participation in college sports will be determined by that sport’s national governing body, such as USA Swimming. If there is no policy at the national level, then the policies of a sport’s international governing body would take hold.

“We are steadfast in our support of transgender student-athletes and the fostering of fairness across college sports,” John DeGioia, board chair and Georgetown president, said in a statement. “It is important that NCAA member schools, conferences and college athletes compete in an inclusive, fair, safe and respectful environment and can move forward with a clear understanding of the new policy.”

Thomas started swimming at age 5, eventually competing for three seasons on the men’s swimming team at Penn, The Post reported earlier this month. Toward the end of those three years, in the spring of 2019, she started going through testosterone suppression treatment, which the NCAA then required transgender women to undergo for a full year before competing in women’s sports, according to The Post. She continued to swim for the men’s team in the fall of 2019, when she would have been ineligible to compete against women.

Thomas went through hormone therapy for more than two years, working with university and NCAA officials so she could swim on the women’s team this season.

A transgender college swimmer is shattering records, sparking a debate over fairness

She has since dominated in the pool, setting records and destroying competitors by wide margins, The Post reported this month. She has posted the fastest times of any female swimmer in two events and will likely be a favorite in March at the NCAA championships.

Thomas said last month on the podcast SwimSwam that her times this season are “nowhere close” to what she swam during her three seasons competing on the men’s team before undergoing hormone replacement therapy, according to The Post. Academic researchers compared Thomas’s times before and after she transitioned, finding she was about 5 percent slower in her recent races, according to a study published late last month. But they also determined that the gap between elite male and female swimmers is 10 to 15 percent for shorter distance races and 7 to 10 percent for longer ones.

Conservatives have used Thomas’s dominance as a cudgel, according to a report published last week by the left-leaning Media Matters for America watchdog group. Fox News “obsessively” covered her success, running 32 segments on her swim career over a 5½-week span from early December through mid-January, in which hosts and guests repeatedly deadnamed and misgendered the swimmer as “part of its campaign to vilify transgender athletes in order to malign the trans community as a whole,” Media Matters reported.

Earlier this month, Penn and Ivy League officials issued statements in support of Thomas, but not everyone at the university is happy about Thomas competing on the women’s swim team. Parents of some other Penn swimmers wrote a letter to the school and the NCAA last month to voice their worries about rules that let Thomas compete against their daughters in what they called a “direct threat to female athletes in every sport,” The Post reported earlier this month.

“All you expect is a fair chance,” one mother told The Post in a recent interview, speaking on the condition of anonymity to protect her daughter’s privacy. “There is no chance this year. They train hard but know that they cannot beat Lia.”

That, Jenner said Wednesday on Fox, is her point.

“I feel sorry for the other athletes that are out there, especially at Penn or anybody she’s competing against, because in the woke world, you’ve got to say, ‘Oh, my gosh! This is great!’ and on and on and on. No, it’s not.”

“It’s not good for women’s sports,” she added. “It’s unfortunate that this is happening.”

Jenner’s involvement on the issue predates Thomas. She called the issue a “question of fairness” in May, just after announcing her candidacy to replace California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) in a recall election that would fail four months later. Her comments came after a slew of bills, most sponsored by Republicans, were introduced in dozens of state legislatures around the country to limit the participation of transgender athletes in women’s sports, according to an April article in The Post.

After appearing on Fox on Wednesday, Jenner posted the segment on Twitter with a caption fusing the issue with one of the words most frequently lobbed by conservatives in the culture wars.

“WOKENESS is killing women’s sports!”

Rick Maese contributed to this report.

Loading...