Women’s Sports Need to Follow the Science

Catholic colleges must defend the right of women to compete in sports exclusively against other women.

As a former NCAA swimmer and current collegiate swim coach at Franciscan University of Steubenville, I’ve found the integrity and equality of women’s sports to be under attack. As recently as 2019, University of Pennsylvania swimmer Will (who now desires to be called Lia) Thomas swam as a biological male on the men’s team. He swam on the men’s team for three years before taking a year off to “transition.” He returned to the sport this past season after a year of hormone “therapy” which, by NCAA standards, has allowed him to compete not only with, but also against biological females.

Allowing men to compete against women is unjust and wrong, for the biological disparities between men and women give men a significant, natural advantage over women. Catholic colleges must defend the right of women to compete in sports exclusively against other women.

If we truly want to argue for women’s rights and equal opportunity such as the modern feminists fight for, then we should begin by defending the biological reality of womanhood. In his book  When Harry Became Sally (which is banned on Amazon, of course), Ryan T. Anderson explains:  

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[M]ale and female bodies differ not only in their sex chromosomes (XX and YX) and in their organization for reproduction, but also on average, in size, shape, bone length and density, fat distribution, musculature, and various organs including the brain. These secondary sex differences are not what define us as male or female; organization for reproduction does that. But this organization leads to other bodily differences. There are organizational differences and organism-wide differences in organs and tissues, as well as differences at the cellular and molecular levels. (97-98)

No surgery or hormone therapy can change our biological sex, for sex is specified by the chromosomes at the moment of conception. Putting aside the ultra-rare cases of DSDs (disorders of sexual development), when a person possesses XY chromosomes, he will develop a male reproductive system. And when someone possesses XX chromosomes, she will develop a female reproductive system. These differing, complementary reproductive systems constitute the essential difference between men and women.  

But the distinct chromosomes and reproductive systems also typically generate significantly different secondary sexual characteristics between men and women. As Anderson says, quoting the Institute of Medicine, “Basic genetic and physiological differences…result in behavioral and cognitive differences between males and females.” When this boils down to athletics, there is a huge discrepancy between males and females, since males are typically naturally faster, bigger, and stronger because of their makeup from the secondary sexual characteristics. 

No matter how much “transitioning” or “hormone therapy” takes place in a male, male XY chromosomes will still remain, and thus these significant secondary differences will still be in play. Unless governing bodies and institutions acknowledge the fundamental, biological differences between males and females, women will not have an equal opportunity in sports. The results of Thomas’ competition against real women have demonstrated this. 

Thomas’ return to the sport after a year of “hormone therapy” highlights the athletic consequences of the differences between men and women. In swimming, average men’s record times are 11 percent faster than women’s times. In a sport frequently decided by 100ths of a second, this is a huge margin. A year of “transitioning” could not change this or offer a fair playing field, which is why men and women have historically competed separately. 

Since swimming for the women’s team, Thomas has smashed female Ivy League records. The times that he has posted this year almost measure up to female Olympian standards. For example, Thomas won the 1650-yard race recently by more than 38 seconds. His time set a new pool, meet, and program record. This is a slap in the face to the real women who set those records, as well as to the women whom Thomas was competing against and to his female teammates.  

Cynthia Millen, a USA Swimming official of three decades, recently resigned in protest over the injustice of the situation that Thomas and those on his side have created. She summed up the situation best in The Washington Times and on Fox’s The Ingraham Angle, saying, “bodies swim against bodies. Gender identities don’t swim…. That’s a male [Thomas’] body against females. And that male body can never change. That male body will always be a male body.” 

So, where are the feminists? Where are these women who argue for women’s rights and equality? It’s hypocrisy. There should be outrage like that demonstrated by Millen. But modern feminists seem not to care about protecting themselves against bureaucratic institutions such as the NCAA and the University of Pennsylvania.

The fairness of women’s sports is in major jeopardy. If this crisis continues, it will dramatically change the path of athletics in a delusional and unjust way. So, what can be done? 

First and foremost, we must begin with prayer: prayer for the athletes confused about their biological sex, prayer for coaches and administrators to have the courage to defend the truth, and prayer for the athletes to resist competing against the wrong sex. Furthermore, all Catholic colleges must prepare in case a situation such as the one at UPenn comes their way. We cannot fear getting canceled or labeled “transphobic” for defending the truth about the biological makeup that God has given us. 

Officials, athletes, parents, spectators, and coaches (myself included) must be ready to stand up for their beliefs. We must boycott, protest, or forfeit a competition—or even quit—if a team or institution thinks that bending and changing biological sex is acceptable. Benefactors to universities must withdraw their donations should a university do what UPenn has done. Alumni should write letters of petition to show their outrage and disappointment if their institution thinks athletes can pick their sex.  

For Catholic athletes, especially, it will take courage to refuse to compete against a person of the opposite sex. This refusal will require them to effectively waste the many hours of training in preparation for competition that they have undertaken. But their reward will be great in Heaven.  Finally, as previously mentioned, we all should pray for these athletes themselves, such as “Lia” Thomas, who are confused about their bodies. We must pray that the light of truth and of Christ will change their minds and hearts. We must follow the science and set our moral compasses straight, unlike the Leftists who only believe in the science when it fits their own narratives.

[Image Credit: Facebook/Penn Athletics]


  • Mary Kate Waldow

    Mary Kate Waldow is the Assistant Women’s Swimming and Diving Coach at Franciscan University of Steubenville and a former NCAA swimmer and team record holder. She also serves as a Marriage Prep instructor for Agape Catholic Ministries and is a homeschooling mother of three children.

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