- The Washington Times - Friday, July 15, 2022

Swimmer Lia Thomas has been nominated for the 2022 NCAA Woman of the Year award after a season in which the freestyler became the first male-born athlete to win a Division I women’s title.

Thomas was nominated by the University of Pennsylvania for the honor, which “recognizes female student-athletes who have exhausted their eligibility and distinguished themselves in their community, in athletics and in academics throughout their college careers,” said the NCAA in a Thursday press release.

Thomas graduated in May after a record-breaking season that culminated in March with a first-place finish in the 500-yard freestyle at the Division I swimming championships, stoking a national debate over fairness versus inclusivity in women’s sports.

Every NCAA member school may nominate up to two female athletes for the annual honor. This year’s list of 577 athletes will be pared down to 10 athletes from each of the three divisions, then three athletes from each division for a total of nine finalists.

The NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics will review the finalists and name the 2022 NCAA Woman of the Year,” said the release. “For the first time in the award’s history, the Top 30 honorees will be celebrated and the Woman of the Year will be named at the NCAA Convention. The 2023 Convention will take place in January in San Antonio.”

Also nominated was former University of Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines Barker, who has spoken out against NCAA rules allowing biological males to compete in women’s sports after tying with Thomas for fifth in the 200 freestyle.

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The announcement met with pushback from advocates of single-sex sports, including Independent Women’s Law Center director Jennifer Braceras, who blasted the university for selecting Thomas.

“UPenn has a LOT of great female athletes. But the university CHOSE to nominate #LiaThomas for NCAA female athlete of the year,” tweeted Ms. Braceras. “Shame on Penn, depriving a woman of this honor.”

Abigail Shrier, author of “Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Securing Our Daughters,” tweeted: “It isn’t ‘inclusion’ that leads the Ivy League to pull stunts like this. It’s misogyny - and utter contempt for the truth.”

Thomas swam for three years on the men’s team before joining the women’s team after transitioning to female after undergoing at least a year of testosterone treatment, as required under NCAA rules.

“Penn nominated transgender swimmer Lia Thomas as their NCAA woman of the year,” tweeted OutKick founder Clay Travis. “Hell of an accomplishment to be woman of the year after only being a woman for a couple of years.”

Thomas defended competing in women’s sports in a May 31 interview with ESPN, saying that “trans women are women.”

“Trans women competing in women’s sports does not threaten women’s sports as a whole,” Thomas said. “Trans women are a very small minority of all athletes. The NCAA rules regarding trans women competing in women’s sports have been around for 10-plus years. And we haven’t seen any massive wave of trans women dominating.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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