Hear Me Out: The topic of the week: trans athletes
February 24, 2022
If you haven’t heard, Penn swimmer Lia Thomas smashed a lot of records last week, and a lot of people are up in arms. Thomas is at the center of a new round of American culture wars because Thomas is a trans woman.
Then here in Wyoming, as of writing, the bill SF0051 Fairness in women’s sports act is in the Senate Education Committee would ban transgender women and girls from competing in high school and collegiate sports that aren’t their biological sex at birth.
To quote Nigel Tufnel, the hyperbole and emotion surrounding the topic of trans athletes is at an 11. Specifically trans women.
Rather than wading into that muck and negativity full of bad actors, I want to take a balanced look at this and steer clear of the handwringing, over-the-top generalization and absurd speculation.
Let’s look at what’s happening with Thomas.
While mainstream media would like you to believe instances like Thomas are abundant and quickly becoming the new norm. That is false. Looking at it from a numbers standpoint, the Williams Institute in 2016 estimated that .6% of the US population identifies as transgender. Even with that number growing, we’re still talking about a small percentage of people. Often trans athletes compete in athletics without any exposure. Athletes like Thomas are even rarer.
Trans athletes should be allowed to compete as long as they don’t have a clear physical advantage. There’s a one-year waiting period for Olympic and DI-level trans athletes before they can compete. But, with the way Thomas has dominated and, more importantly, a study by Dr. Timothy Roberts published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine, a two-year waiting period could be the best option. Again, at the elite level.
One radical idea did cross my mind, and not out of shade or snark. If two years is too long of a wait, why not allow legalized doping for cisgender women to level the playing field? I’m genuinely curious about what heights elite athletes could hit if doping were legal. We saw a glimpse of it in the MLB, and say what you will about the steroid era, but baseball was must-watch TV then.
Back on topic.
Roberts’ study said that at the elite levels, the physical advantages still remain for trans women after one year of treatment. The study focused solely on trans athletes at the elite ranks. To balance the competitive field, a blanket ban wasn’t suggested, rather a two-year waiting period before competition, which is absolutely reasonable. Roberts did say for the lower-level athletics and your average athlete, a one-year waiting period is good for those athletes.
The margins are thin at the elite level. There’s still a lot to learn, and I’m sure more studies will be published about this in the coming years. But as for now and what we know, Thomas should have to wait at least one more year before competing. And a two-year waiting period for other trans women athletes
Now, as for the bill going through the Wyoming legislature.
Sen. Wendy Schuler (R-Evanston), the bill’s sponsor, didn’t even realize that there was already a transgender policy in place by the Wyoming High School Actives Association. This policy has been in place for nearly a decade and gives the schools and coaches the agency to handle the situation. The Association’s policy also prevents any “Juwanna Man” situation from happening. (Worst timing ever for this joke.) There won’t be anyone trying to sneak one by the Association because they’re prepared for such a situation. (Even though that situation is highly unlikely.)
Giving control at the local level for these instances is the best course of option.
I have more trust in our school administrators and coaches, who actually know the kids, than a group of politicians thirsty to get on “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” The proposed law is redundant and just for show, similar to voter ID laws. (You’re telling me that a driver’s license and social security aren’t enough; I need another form of government identification? I thought the ultimate goal here was to have less government?)
Really what Schuler’s created is the eventual scenario that happened in Texas a few years back. A trans boy wanted to compete in the boys wrestling division. The Texas high school association, or their version of it, said no, and he was forced to stay in the girls. He won state championships and was vilified by people who read the headline and half the lede. He didn’t want to compete in the girls tournament but was forced to because of the failure of those decision-makers.
Schuler’s bill is not necessary, and had she called or emailed the Association, she would have learned there is a better policy in place. Avoiding all of this mess. Instead, she rolled with her bias and put forth a bill that is a regression from what’s already working. Maybe I’m too idealistic, but I’d like to think most lawmakers do their due diligence before bringing a bill forward. Rather than bringing something forward on a whim or because other states are doing it. (What’s the version of peer pressure among state governments?)
I don’t speak on this with a holier-than-thou stance. Seriously, just a week ago, I was in the same camp as Schuler. It wasn’t until I started reading more about Thomas which eventually led me to learn that the Association has been on top of this well before it moved into the public sphere.
It’d be one thing if Schuler did a deep fact-finding investigation and came to this conclusion, but she didn’t. It’s easy to say that because, and it can’t be repeated enough, she didn’t even know that the Association has had an effective policy in place for the past eight years.
Here’s my bias (And my cliches.), I believe sports provide some of the best building block lessons that life has to offer. The hard work, the bonds built between teammates, the failures, and the successes are all second to none. To rob kids of that because of a lack of understanding or political clout doesn’t sit well with me.
This bill is a mistake, and a step back from an already effective policy put forth by the Association.
Sports Editor’s note: With the winter sports postseason in full swing, Hear Me Out is on a break until March 17. Please send all hate mail or positive mail (Who doesn’t love a positive email?) to [email protected].