Respect Equality

Michael Phelps calls Lia Thomas controversy ‘complicated’; highlights need for ‘level playing field’

Story at a glance

  • Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps in a recent interview called the controversy surrounding transgender swimmer Lia Thomas “complicated” and said he’s not sure what an “even playing field” should look like moving forward.
  • Thomas, who was assigned male at birth, has shattered school and national records this year while competing on the University of Pennsylvania’s women’s team more than two years into her hormone replacement therapy.
  • Under NCAA guidelines, transgender female athletes may compete for collegiate women’s sports teams after completing one year of “testosterone suppression treatment.”

U.S. Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps has weighed in on the controversy surrounding the University of Pennsylvania’s Lia Thomas, calling the transgender swimmer’s recent success “complicated.”

“I believe that we all should feel comfortable with who we are in our own skin, but I think sports should all be played on an even playing field,” he said in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour late last week.

Phelps added that he’s unsure what an “even playing field” should look like.

“It’s very complicated,” he said.

Thomas last year took the collegiate swimming world by storm, shattering school and national records. Some allege that the swimmer, who was assigned male at birth, has a natural advantage over cisgender women — an argument which is not well founded, according to NCAA guidelines.


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“Any strength and endurance advantages a transgender woman arguably may have as a result of her prior testosterone levels dissipate after about one year of estrogen or testosterone-suppression therapy,” reads a portion of the organization’s framework.

According to the NCAA, a transgender female athlete can compete for a collegiate women’s sports team after completing one year of “testosterone suppression treatment.”

Thomas is now more than two and a half years into her hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

After swimming for three years on the university’s men’s team, Thomas was approved to swim on the women’s team for the 2020-21 season — a year after beginning HRT. That season was later canceled by the Ivy League because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among Thomas’ critics are a handful of her own teammates, who have spoken anonymously to conservative news sites like like OutKick and the Washington Examiner.

“I try not to be around her because the whole situation makes me so mad,” one of her teammates reportedly told the Examiner last week. “I don’t think Lia is a bad person. She’s very quiet and kind of introverted … It’s just really hard for me to respect her at all because of what she’s doing to my team and what she’s doing to women in general and not caring.”

Phelps said during his interview that he can speak to the issue from the standpoint of doping, or the use of outlawed athletic performance-enhancing drugs.

“I don’t think I’ve competed in a clean field in my entire career,” he said. 

“I think this leads back to the organizing committees,” he said. “Because it has to be a level playing field. That’s something that we all need, because that’s what sports are. For me, I don’t know where this is going to go. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”


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