Controversy swirls around Penn State athlete Lia Thomas

Benjamin Haslam, Head Copy Editor

Lia Thomas, a transgender female athlete on the Penn State women’s swim team, has become the source of widespread contention over the issue of transgender athletes competing in their preferred gender’s leagues.

Thomas swam a record-breaking 200 and 500 freestyle race and won the 1650 freestyle by nearly 40 seconds in the women’s NCAA league. From 2017 to 2020, Thomas swam for the Penn State men’s team and began transitioning and undergoing hormone therapy in 2019. After a year of therapy, Thomas was allowed to compete in the women’s league.

In response to the record-breaking times, parents of Penn State athletes wrote letters of protest to the NCAA. In response, the NCAA changed its policies on transgender athletes to require individual sports organizations to create their own requirements for transgender athletes to compete in their preferred leagues. The new rules still allow for Thomas to swim in the women’s league, for now. 

Thomas was also accused of allowing Yale swimmer Iszac Henig in a 100-meter freestyle race by another Penn state athlete on Thomas’ swim team, who chose to remain anonymous. Thomas finished the race more than 3 seconds slower than the previous race, a major difference in swimming. 

“Looking at [Lia’s] time, I don’t think she was trying. I know they’re friends, and I know they were talking before the meet. I think she let [Henig] win to prove the point that, ‘Oh see, a female-to-male beat me,’” said Thomas’ teammate. 

More of Thomas’ teammates agreed.

“I do [believe there was collusion]. I can’t say for sure, but I wouldn’t be shocked if I found out that was 100% true. You can tell when someone is dying and they’re swimming slow. You can also tell when someone is not trying, and I could see [in the 200 freestyle] that Lia was not trying,” said another teammate who also chose to remain anonymous.