USA Swimming – – Transgender Policy

The football season is not quite over and today is a Friday.  However, I have known since September when football season began that this would be a week without a Football Friday simply because I refuse to consider the Pro Bowl with any greater seriousness than I do Exhibition Games.  I originally thought the way to avoid a Football Friday while keeping a focus on football for today would be to do my annual post-mortem on those NFL predictions I made 5 months ago.  But I changed my mind; I’ll do the post-mortem next week sometime.

There is an issue in other sports that I think deserves attention far more than my football prediction retrospective.  Earlier this week, USA Swimming – the regulatory and governing body for swimming here – issued a new policy to establish eligibility criteria for transgender athletes in “elite events”.  Clearly, this action springs from the controversy created by the transgender woman swimmer at the University of Pennsylvania, Lia Thomas.  Here is my understanding as to how a transgender swimmer will need to be “certified” for elite competition in the future:

  • Three “independent medical experts” will decide if the athlete’s prior physical development as a male gives her a competitive advantage over cisgender women swimmers against whom the transgender swimmer will be competing.  Please do not ask me how those folks will make such a determination – – but somehow, they will do so.  The cynic in me thinks that the demand for Ouija Boards will skyrocket…
  • In addition, the athlete will have to demonstrate that the concentration of testosterone in her blood has been below a set limit (5 nanomoles per liter) continuously for 36 months prior to the time of “certification”.

These rules will only apply at “elite levels” and not at every age group and every level of competition.  Lia Thomas is competing at an “elite level” of women’s swimming; she underwent two years of testosterone reduction/hormone replacement therapy as was required by the NCAA; and to this point in the swimming season, she owns the fastest women’s time in several events.

Let me say something carefully here.  In 2022, it is extremely easy to be charged with “transphobia” if one says anything that might be even slightly critical of anyone in the transgender community.  Nevertheless, I have to proclaim my lack of medical credentials and my lack of sociology credentials while I similarly must assert what I have observed over the 78 years I have been on Planet Earth:

  • In athletic events where muscular strength and/or foot speed are critical elements, there is a significant advantage for males over females at the elite levels of the sport.
  • Olympic level male shot-putters can put the shot further than women at that level.
  • Olympic male sprinters can run a specified distance in less time than women at that level.
  • You can fill in at least another dozen or more events here where those observations are true to form in every circumstance…

The difficulty for women’s competitions arises from the disparity in performance from the best male performance to the best female performance.  That gap is large enough for the following situation to obtain:

  • The male record for the marathon stands today at 2 hours 1 minute 39 seconds.
  • The fastest female time recorded – it was in a mixed gender race, so it is not considered the women’s world record – is 2 hours 14 minutes 4 seconds.
  • The winning male time in that mixed gender race was 2 hours 5 minutes 45 seconds.
  • Ten male runners finished with faster times than did the winning female.
  • Now, suppose one or two of them decided to declare themselves as transgender females.  That marathon winner – and her world record – would be out the window.
  • By the way, this happens in other events besides the marathon…

My problem here is not with transgender athletes in either direction; my problem is that there is an inevitable advantage for a transgender female athlete over cisgender female athletes in specific sports.  And no amount of political correctness is going to change that.  I believe that women’s sports may be devalued – maybe even obliterated – if some of the sports do not simply declare that transgender vs. cisgender competition is fundamentally unfair to the cisgender athlete.

This is not a simple problem because I also happen to believe that every person of every gender and sexuality should have the opportunity to compete in any sport that is legal.  However, the unstated but underlying premise of any event that you can call a sport is the fact that the playing field is level.  And I believe that if a male at birth goes through puberty and develops his athletic skills and strengths post puberty, that athlete will make for unfair competition for cisgender females in certain sports.

I wish I knew how to square the circle here; I do not.  Maybe three years of testosterone levels below 5 nanomoles per liter is the answer – – but color me skeptical.  Maybe a three-person medical panel can unravel all of this – – color me a lot more skeptical.  I may not have the solution here, but I am confident that “advocates” for anything other than fair competition are not going to make the solution any the easier to find.

Finally, since this has all been about “man” and “woman” in the context of athletics, let me close with a view of man and a view of women:

“Man is a clever animal who behaves like an imbecile.”  [Albert Schweitzer]

And …

“Women should be obscene and not heard.”  [Groucho Marx]

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………