Swimmer Riley Gaines slams ESPN for Lia Thomas honor

Swimmer Riley Gaines slams ESPN for honoring ‘arrogant cheat’ trans athlete Lia Thomas in Women’s History Month special – as Thomas denies she transitioned to win and says ‘I didn’t have any other choice’

  • Riley Gaines, a former University of Kentucky swimmer, who ended her college career in 2022 as a champion, spoke out Sunday against Lia Thomas
  • Lia Thomas, who swam for the University of Pennsylvania until graduating in 2022, smashed records in her final season
  • ESPN paid tribute to Thomas – who began transitioning in May 2019, and swam for the women’s team in 2021: Gaines said ESPN’s tribute was not warranted 

ESPN has been condemned by a former champion college swimmer for including transgender swimmer Lia Thomas in their segment devoted to Women’s History Month – describing the company as ‘spineless’.

Riley Gaines swam for the University of Kentucky, ending her college career in 2022 as ‘one of the most decorated swimmers in program history,’ according to the UK website. She became a 12-time NCAA All-American swimmer and a five-time SEC champion.

Gaines competed against transgender University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas in the NCAA championships in March 2022, and said the experience of racing Thomas – who raced in the men’s competition until 2019 – ‘felt like I was going into the race with my hands tied behind my back.’

On Sunday, Gaines took issue with ESPN’s decision to praise Thomas’s contribution to women’s sport, and tweeted the hashtag ‘Boycott ESPN’.

Riley Gaines (right) is seen in March 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia, having swam against Lia Thomas (left) at the NCAA championships

‘Lia Thomas is not a brave, courageous woman who EARNED a national title,’ Gaines tweeted.

‘He is an arrogant, cheat who STOLE a national title from a hardworking, deserving woman. The @ncaa is responsible.

‘If I was a woman working at ESPN, I would walk out. You’re spineless @espn #boycottESPN.’

ESPN’s segment was titled: ‘Celebrating Women’s History Month’.

A voiceover explained how Thomas made history by becoming the first transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division One championship, in 2022, in the 500 freestyle.

The Texan-born athlete swam in men’s competitions until beginning their transition in May 2019, and made her debut in the women’s races in December 2021.

‘Being trans is not a choice,’ said Thomas. ‘I didn’t have any other choice because not transitioning was not getting me anywhere.

‘People will say, ‘Oh, she just transitioned so she would have an advantage so she could win.’

‘I transitioned to be happy.’

DailyMail.com has contacted both ESPN and Thomas’s representative, and is yet to hear back. 

Lia Thomas is seen in the ESPN clip describing how transitioning was the only option for her

Texas-born Thomas is seen in action for the University of Pennsylvania

Thomas became the first trans athlete to win a NCAA Division One championship title

Gaines is seen at a rally in January this year outside of the NCAA Convention in San Antonio

Thomas’s competing as a woman was highly controversial.

The swimmer had been hoping, after graduating, to try for the Paris 2024 Olympics – but that is now looking unlikely given new rules requiring trans athletes to have transitioned before the age of 12, by June 2022.

Gaines, who studied public health and is now beginning dental school, has become one of the most outspoken advocates against trans women in sport.

‘Whether they have different lung capacities, their height, testosterone levels whether they’ve used testosterone blockers or not — it doesn’t suppress going through puberty as a male. Especially Lia, who swam for three years as a male,’ Gaines told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson in April 2022.

‘Lia Thomas has shown extreme selfishness and a major lack of awareness — and just an utter disregard for women.’

Gaines said Thomas’s participation in women’s collegiate swimming is a part of a wider problem in society.

‘We’re watching the denial of the most basic of truths,’ she said.

‘When you can’t acknowledge what a woman is, there’s a huge problem.

‘This is deeper than just sports. This is a systematic erasure of what a woman is.’

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