When I noticed that the New York Times had published a lengthy article on transgender athletes competing in women’s sports, I almost didn’t bother clicking on the link. The title was “What Lia Thomas could mean for women’s elite sports.” I inwardly groaned, anticipating yet another lengthy, antiscientific lecture on how anyone who protests biological men competing against actual women is “transphobic” and how the real women should just work harder if they want to win. What I found in the article by Michael Powell, however, was actually a pleasant surprise. The piece was still rife with assumptions that defy fundamental biological science, but it also quoted many prominent athletes and explored the scientific reality of how males and females develop, specifically focusing on the impact that testosterone has on athletic abilities.
The battle over whether to let female transgender athletes compete in women’s elite sports has reached an angry pitch, a collision of competing principles: The hard-fought-for right of women to compete in high school, college and pro sports versus a swelling movement to allow transgender athletes to compete in their chosen gender identities.
Although the number of transgender athletes on top teams is small — a precise count is elusive as no major athletic association collects such data — disagreements are profound. They center on science, fairness and inclusiveness, and cut to the core of distinctions between gender identity and biological sex.
Echoes of those debates ripple outward from pools to weight lifting rooms and tracks, to cycling courses and rugby pitches, and to the Olympics, where officials face a fateful decision on how wide to open the door to transgender women.
The Times made the effort to speak to many members of the Princeton University women’s swim team who expressed frustration and even anger over Lia Thomas. Of course, they only did so on condition of anonymity out of fear of the backlash from the woke mob. But the article quotes many more people who have dared to speak the truth even if it is inconvenient for the progressive left.
Sebastian Coe of the International Association of Athletics Federations, as well as being an Olympic champion himself, said “Gender cannot trump biology.” Retired tennis legend Martina Navratilova was also willing to speak up yet again, despite having been “canceled” by the transgender army.
“So I’m a ‘TERF’ — OK, that’s the way you want to go?” Ms. Navratilova said in response. “I played against taller women, I played against stronger women, and I beat them all. But if I faced the male equivalent of Lia in tennis, that’s biology. I would have had no shot. And I would have been livid.”
The article also does a deep dive into the actual science behind these questions, with experts in sports medicine weighing in. While females grow more quickly than males prior to puberty, the surge of testosterone that the boys experience “washes away that advantage.” They note that swimming records among men are 10 percent to 12 percent faster than women’s records. And even after taking testosterone blockers, “top trans women retain a substantial edge.”
The article also dares to point to the reality of Lia Thomas’ performance. When competing in the men’s 200-yard freestyle, he ranked 554th. In the women’s 2022 N.C.A.A championship he placed fifth.
Here’s one more example to consider. Allyson Felix won the most sprinting world championship medals in history. Her lifetime record in the 400-meter sprint was 49.26 seconds. In 2018, 275 high school boys ran faster.
If you’ve lost the unquestioning obedience of the New York Times, your cause is in trouble. I honestly don’t know why we’re still having this debate. Lia Thomas and all of the other male-to-female transgender athletes are free to call themselves whatever they like. Free speech is a right we all share. But no amount of angry hyperventilating is going to change the fact that he’s a male with obvious, unfair advantages over female competitors. And Thomas is undoing generations of struggles for equality in women’s sports at every level.