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Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines slammed the University of Pennsylvania’s decision to nominate Lia Thomas for the NCAA’s Woman of the Year award Friday.
Thomas, who is transgender, became the first trans woman to win titles at the Ivy League and NCAA championships.
But her progress in the pool ignited a hotly contested debate over whether transgender woman should be permitted to compete in sports against biological women.
Gaines tweeted her opinion, saying the NCAA is making the highest award in collegiate athletics “worthless.”
“Being the real girl in that photo and also University of Kentucky’s nominee for NCAA WOTY, this is yet another slap in the face to women. First a female national title and now nominated for the pinnacle award in collegiate athletics,” she wrote in a tweet response to Outkick founder Clay Travis. “The @NCAA has made this award worthless.
“This award combines athletic performance with academics, service, and character. What character has Thomas shown other than sheer selfishness and entitlement? The disrespect and disregard for the other female athletes in Thomas’ interviews is eye opening.”
Gaines was also nominated for NCAA Woman of the Year by the University of Kentucky after she finished her career in the pool. She won three individual conference titles in the SEC, broke two SEC records, had 12 All-America awards and graduated with summa cum laude honors. She finished behind Thomas in the 200-yard freestyle at the NCAA championships earlier this year.
“This award recognizes not only athletic performance but also academics, service and character, so to be thought of as someone who embodies all of those things is extremely humbling,” Gaines said in a news release on the school’s athletics website. “I’m aware I was up against a department full of amazing female student-athletes, so I’m very grateful and always proud to be a Wildcat. I have so much love for UK and Big Blue Nation.”
Each NCAA member school nominates a Woman of the Year. Each conference then reviews the nominations from its member schools and submits its conference nominee to the NCAA. Nominees who compete in sports not sponsored by their school’s main conference and independent nominees will be sent to a separate pool of nominations and considered by a committee.
The organization then identifies the top 30 and, from there, selects three finalists from each pool. From the nine finalists, the NCAA will choose a winner.
The appointment of Thomas comes after FINA, the governing body for international swimmingvoted to approve new fonts for transgender swimmers.
The newly approved “gender inclusion policy“only permits swimmers who transitioned prior to the age of 12 to participate in women’s events.