DeSantis proclaims Florida woman ‘best female swimmer’ over transgender athlete

Governor accuses NCAA of ‘fraud’

Emma Weyant, of United States, poses with her silver medal on the podium for the women's 400-meter Individual medley at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Sunday, July 25, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader) (Associated Press)

WESLEY CHAPEL, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis railed against the NCAA allowing transgender athletes to compete in women’s competitions during a news conference in Wesley Chapel Tuesday.

DeSantis specifically called out the colligate sport organization allowing Lia Thomas, a transgender athlete competing for the University of Pennsylvania, to compete in the 500-yard freestyle, though he did not name the swimmer.

“The NCAA is basically taking efforts to destroy women’s athletics,” DeSantis said. “They’re trying to undermine the integrity of the competition, and they’re crowning somebody else, the woman’s champion, and we think that’s wrong.”

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DeSantis made the comments after signing a financial literacy education bill. During the a Q&A with reporters, DeSantis was questioned about the controversial Parental Rights in Education bill, labeled by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. DeSantis said the bill would prevent topic of “sexuality” from being discussed in the classroom.

“The classroom instruction they’re getting should not be involving these issues involving sexuality, particularly things like transgenderism where they’re being taught that they (students) may be able to change genders,” the governor said.

He then segued into discussing the women’s swimming competition that took place over the weekend in Atlanta.

“You had the number one woman who finished was from Sarasota, Emma Weyant, and she won the silver medal. She’s been an absolute superstar her whole career,” the governor said.

Weyant, who competes for the University of Virginia and also took Olympic silver in the 2021 summer games in Tokyo as part of Team USA, placed second in the 500-yard freestyle with a time of 4:34.99, less than 2 seconds behind Thomas.

“I’m going to be later today — because this is a Floridian who I think deserves to be recognized — we’re going to be doing a proclamation saying that Emma is the best female swimmer in the 500 meter freestyle, because she earned that and we need to stop allowing organizations like the NCAA to perpetuate frauds on the public,” DeSantis said.

Weyant has not made a public statement about Thomas or the governor’s plan for a proclamation.

The governor signed a bill in 2021 called the The Fairness In Women’s Sports Act, effectively banning transgender athletes from competing in women’s sports.

“In Florida, girls are going to play girls sports, boys are going to play boys sports,” DeSantis said in June 2021.

Democratic lawmakers in Florida pushed back against DeSantis following the bill’s signing.

“Governor Ron DeSantis has signed into law the state’s first anti-LGBTQ bill in 23 years. This bigoted, transphobic piece of legislation targets one of the most vulnerable groups of people in our state: transgender youth,” said State Rep. Anna Eskamani in a statement at the time.

Thomas has followed NCAA and Ivy League rules since she began her transition in 2019 by starting hormone replacement therapy. She also swam for Penn while transitioning.

The inclusion of the swimmer created controversy, even within the sport. There were fewer than 10 protesters outside the Georgia Tech facility during the national swimming competition and some carried banners which read “Save Women’s Sports” in the stands.

“I try to ignore it as much as I can,” Thomas said following her win. “I try to focus on my swimming ... and just try to block out everything else.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


About the Author:

Thomas Mates is a digital storyteller for News 6 and ClickOrlando.com. He also produces the podcast Florida Foodie. Thomas is originally from Northeastern Pennsylvania and worked in Portland, Oregon before moving to Central Florida in August 2018. He graduated from Temple University with a degree in Journalism in 2010.