Florida Governor Ron DeSantis calls Lia Thomas’ NCAA women’s swimming title ‘a fraud’

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Governor Ron DeSantis jumped into the conversation about a transgender swimmer who won a collegiate title by declaring the runner-up as the real winner.

DeSantis signed a proclamation Tuesday declaring Florida-born Emma Weyant as the winner of the women’s 500-yard (457-meter) freestyle at the NCAA women’s tournament rather than transgender woman athlete Lia Thomas.

“By allowing men to compete in women’s sports, the NCAA is destroying opportunities for women, making a mockery of its championships, and perpetuating a fraud,” DeSantis said on Twitter.

His proclamation comes nearly a year after he signed a bill that requires anyone participating in girls’ athletics to have an original birth certificate stating they are female.

The NCAA championships capped a monthslong controversy surrounding Thomas. Ever since she won the 200, 500 and 1,650 freestyle in Akron, Ohio, at the Zippy Invitational in December, her name has stayed in the news.

First it was gawking at the times she put up and their proximity to Katie Ledecky’s 500 freestyle and Missy Franklin’s 200 freestyle records. Although Thomas was 10 seconds off Ledecky’s pace and over 2 seconds off of Franklin’s, she was seemingly within striking distance in December.

Many in the swimming community wondered how fast Thomas would be after a season of training and a full taper heading into the NCAA championships.

That core question was finally answered in Atlanta. Thomas competed in three individual events: the 500, 200 and 100 freestyle. She made all three championship finals (A-finals in swimming parlance), making her a three-time All-American. She placed eighth in the 100, tied for fifth in the 200 and won the 500, finishing 9 seconds off Ledecky’s record. Thomas set no pool, meet or American records during the meet. Other than a poolside interview after the 500, she did not speak to media.

“It’s a symbol of Lia’s resilience,” Schuyler Bailar, who at Harvard became the first known transgender man to compete on a Division I men’s team, told ESPN. “The fact that she’s able to show up here, despite protesters outside, people shouting and booing her, I think it’s a testament to her resiliency. And it’s also a symbol that we can both be who we are and do what we love.”

Information from ESPN’s Katie Barnes and The Associated Press was used in this report