NBC News posted an op-ed Monday from a Purdue professor comparing Lia Thomas to Jackie Robinson, a take that didn’t sit well with some fans of Jackie Robinson as well as women’s sports.
“Opinion: We should be celebrating Lia Thomas the way we celebrate Jackie Robinson,” said the NBC News tweet promoting the article.
Cheryl Cooky, Purdue professor of American studies and of women’s, gender and sexuality studies, said there is a “cultural investment in celebrating sports’ ‘firsts,’” citing several athletes including Robinson, the first Black player in Major League Baseball.
“Thomas, as the first transgender athlete to win a Division I NCAA championship, deserves to be placed among the other firsts,” Ms. Cooky said. “She should be embraced in the history of progress that sports represent and recognized as the trailblazer that she is.”
Those objecting to her comparison included Ryan T. Anderson, president of the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center, who wrote the 2019 book “When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment.”
“If the analogy to Jackie Robinson was accurate, the logical conclusion would be getting rid of separate male-female sporting events the way we rightly got rid of separate black-white sporting events,” Mr. Anderson tweeted. “Skin color is irrelevant to athletics, sex is not.”
Abigail Shrier, author of the 2020 book “Irreversible Damage,” called the effort to celebrate Thomas a “Masterclass in Gaslighting.”
Other tweets included “The esteemed Mr. Robinson didn’t rob others of their opportunities,” and “Lia Thomas is NOT Jackie Robinson.”
“How is Jackie Robinson, a man who was at the top of his game, comparable to a mediocre man who could never be a champion until he competed against women,” one commenter said.
Madeleine Kearns, visiting fellow at the conservative Independent Women’s Forum, argued that the apt comparison would be between Robinson and female athletes fighting to keep their sports single-sex.
She addressed the issue last month after one of Thomas’s teammates at the University of Pennsylvania reportedly said that Thomas compared herself to Robinson. Thomas denied it in a Sports Illustrated interview.
“Today, it is female athletes who are fighting for the right to be taken seriously,” Ms. Kearns said in a National Review op-ed. “They are the ones whose rights are being trampled on, who face humiliation and bullying. That’s why the real Jackie Robinsons are the young female athletes such as Selina Soule who have taken a stand against this sexist injustice.”
Others supported the comparison, including Jesse Couture, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Ottawa.
“Excellent and important @NBC THINK piece by @ProfCooky on Lia Thomas and the gendered politics of collegiate sport,” he tweeted. “Adding to assigned readings as we speak. Will make a great addition to this week’s lecture.”
The @darkst account named Marco Young said that Robinson “faced terrible racism as a child, in the military and as an athlete.”
“Comparing this cheat to a man who struggled against horrific racism in order to play the game with dignity is the literal height of racism,” said the tweet. “This movement is offensive beyond belief.”
Thomas, a fifth-year senior, swam for three years on the Penn men’s team before joining the women’s side for the 2021-22 season after undergoing more than a year of testosterone suppression, as required by NCAA rules.
Thomas became the first male-born athlete to win an NCAA Division l women’s title last week at the championships at Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
The @TWTheRedDragon account tweeted, “I don’t recall Jackie Robinson being born as white & deciding one day he‘s gonna be black. If you actually care about women’s sports then you should be against biological men participating in them.”