A group of nine Republican governors have signed a letter demanding that the NCAA ban transgender female athletes from competing in women’s sports.
The letter’s signatories are Governors Sarah Huckabee Sanders of Arkansas, Tate Reeves of Mississippi, Mike Parson of Missouri, Greg Gianforte of Montana, Joe Lombardo of Nevada, Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma, Kristi Noem of South Dakota, Greg Abbott of Texas, and Mark Gordon of Wyoming.
All except Lombardo — who is saddled with a Democratic-led state legislature — represent states that have passed laws banning transgender participation on female-designated sports teams.
The governors decry the NCAA’s current policy on transgender athletes, which allows the individual national governing body of each sport to determine criteria for eligibility.
Some of those sporting bodies, including track and field and swimming, have barred transgender competitors from female events.
Both bodies have also suggested holding a third “open” category in which transgender swimmers could compete at the elite or post-collegiate levels.
“The NCAA has the chance to guarantee an environment where female college athletes can thrive without the concern of inequities,” the letter reads. “We trust that you also want to guarantee just such an environment. But this policy allows the NCAA to avoid responsibility for ensuring the fairness of collegiate sports — therefore it must be changed.”
The letter brings up Riley Gaines, an anti-transgender activists who has pushed not only for transgender sports bans, but for various restrictions limiting transgender visibility or trans individuals’ ability to participate in society more broadly.
Gaines, who tied with transgender woman and former UPenn swimmer Lia Thomas for fifth place in the 200-yard freestyle final at the 2022 NCAA Division I Swimming and Diving Championships, has used her fame from competing against Thomas to cultivate a career in anti-transgender activism.
The governors paint Gaines as a tragic figure whose “decade of hard work and the countless hours spent in the pool” were all for naught due to her placement in the race.
“Science proves that it is fundamentally unfair for a biological male to compete against a biological female — that does not change when someone declares themselves as being of a different gender,” the governors’ letter reads.
“The National Institutes for Health found that there is on average a 10% difference between the top performing males and females in athletic competition. In high-level athletic competition, a 10% difference is massive — and can even be insurmountable.
“While that difference may vary depending on the specific sport in question, the gap is meaningful across all athletic competitions. The reason why is simple: biological men are generally taller, faster, stronger, and have more testosterone than biological women. This puts women, through no fault of their own, at a disadvantage when they are required to compete against a biological male.”
The governors claim that stories like Gaines’s “will only become more common” unless the NCAA imposes an across-the-board policy barring all transgender female athletes from women’s competitions in all sports.
“Policies that allow men and women to compete against one another validate an average male athlete stealing the recognition from a truly remarkable female athlete,” the letter continues.
“As governors of our states, it is our responsibility to care for our constituents, and we are doing all we can to protect the fairness of athletics in our states. Now, it is time for the NCAA to do the same and make the best decision for all of your athletes.”
In a statement, ACLU of South Dakota Executive Director Samantha Chapman called the letter “another attempt to erase transgender people from society while stirring up support from anti-trans activists with fear-mongering tactics and discriminatory rhetoric that harm some of the most vulnerable people in our state.”
Chapman accused the governors of “grandstanding” on the issue and attempting to use trans people as a “political football.”
“Whatever Gov. Noem and this letter’s co-signers might say, this isn’t about leveling the playing field for student athletes or protecting fairness in women’s sports,” Chapman said. “If it were, these governors would be tackling the actual threats to women’s sports such as severe underfunding, lack of media coverage, sexist ideologies that suggest that women and girls are weak, and pay equity for coaches and players.”
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