The Huffington Post, in an opinion piece published on NBC, likened prominent transgender swimmer Lia Thomas to the legendary Jackie Robinson — who was the first black to play major league baseball.
The op-ed, written by Purdue University professor Cheryl Cooky, claims that Thomas’ recent string of NCAA swimming championship victories, in which he bested two silver Olympic medalists, is “well worth celebrating” as a step forward for women’s sports.
“How can one advocate for fair treatment while also sticking to the idea of biological differences?” asks Cooky. “Can separate ever really be equal in sports if schools, restaurants, bathrooms and other social institutions are not broken down along lines of biological difference?”
Cooky then claims that scientific research does not show that transgender athletes have any advantages over females, even though Thomas, who previously ranked 462nd when competing against other men, has now unexpectedly surpassed Olympic medalists.
“Attempts to prevent or restrict trans athletes from participating in sporting events are not based on evidence,” she insists. “Instead, they are founded in societal and cultural ideas about what constitutes gender or who is a woman.”
“Such issues are important since sports are conducted on the basis of perceived natural distinctions between women and men, and they are gender-segregated as a result,” she adds. “However, this leads to athletes like Thomas being discriminated against.”
“Historically, the supposed physical weakness of women and girls has been used to justify and excuse the unequal treatment of females,” she says. The American Soccer Federation maintains that “there were variations in speed and strength between the women’s and men’s teams, which partly explained any pay gaps.”
Cooky compares Lia Thomas to Jackie Robinson, saying that he is an agent of change.
“Today, athletes such as Jackie Robinson are lauded as “breaking the color barrier” in sports, despite the fact that doing so often implies sanitizing, simplifying, or adjusting a more complicated, nuanced, and contradictory history.”
“There is nevertheless a cultural investment in recognizing sports’ firsts, whether it be Robinson as the first Black MLB player, or the first gay active NBA player, or the first nonbinary U.S. athlete to compete in the Winter Olympics, or even the first woman to play in a college football game.”