“The NCAA is basically taking efforts to destroy women’s athletics,” DeSantis said Tuesday at a bill signing event outside of Tampa. “They’re trying to undermine the integrity of the competition, and they’re crowning somebody else the women’s champion.”
DeSantis and other GOP lawmakers have claimed that they are protecting the integrity of women’s sports, while supporters of Thomas and other transgender athletes say laws prohibiting them from competing are unnecessary and marginalize those athletes.
Florida’s Republican governor signed a proclamation honoring University of Virginia swimmer and Sarasota native Emma Weyant as the “best female” in the 500m freestyle race, taking a shot at Thomas, who beat Weyant by 1.75 seconds to win the NCAA title last week.
The comments from DeSantis came after he pledged to sign legislation to limit instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity, the “Parental Rights in Education” bill that has been branded the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by opponents.
DeSantis’ criticism of the NCAA comes as he has been openly sparring with the Walt Disney Co. for the company’s position against the “Don’t Say Gay” measure, which has received widespread condemnation from Democrats, President Joe Biden and celebrities. Republicans show no signs of backing away from the proposal, which prohibits teachers from leading classroom discussions on sexual orientation and gender issues for students in kindergarten through third grade.
Thomas, who previously swam three seasons on the University of Pennsylvania’s men’s team, placed first in multiple women’s events in recent months before competing in the Ivy League and NCAA championships. She followed all NCAA guidelines in place at the time of her transition and afterward to be eligible to swim. The swimmer has been at the center of controversy in recent months after the NCAA updated regulations for transgender students, triggering outcry from college athletes on both sides of the issue.
DeSantis is the latest conservative to sound off about Thomas’ win in the NCAA finals, following the likes of the group Concerned Women for America, which last week filed a Title IX complaint against Penn, claiming the university is “refusing to protect the rights of college female athletes under federal law.”
Meanwhile, one Republican in a Missouri Senate primary put out a campaign ad criticizing the collegiate swimmer last month.
In 2021, Florida joined several other GOP-majority states in passing legislation targeting transgender athletes participating in girls’ and women’s sports. Dubbed the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” Florida’s bill spells out that K-12 and college sports teams must be designated based on “biological” sex and permits students to verify their sex through a birth certificate. At least 10 other states have approved similar laws.
DeSantis said Tuesday he will sign Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill “relativity soon,” adding that Disney leadership “bought into a false narrative” about the legislation. LGBTQ supporters and some Disney staffers called out the company’s CEO, Bob Chapek, for not taking a stance on Florida’s legislation. After the Legislature approved the bill, Chapek denounced the measure and said he would meet with DeSantis to discuss it.
“If you are out protesting this bill, you are by definition putting yourself in favor of injecting sexual instruction to 5- 6- and 7-year-old kids,” DeSantis said. “I think most people think that’s wrong. I think parents especially think that’s wrong.”