There are hundreds of thousands of talented female college and professional athletes in the U.S. who deserve recognition for their hard work, skill, and talent — but ESPN chose to celebrate this year’s Women’s History Month by boosting the resume of a man.
Over the weekend, ESPN ran a special segment recognizing Lia Thomas, a male swimmer who invaded women’s sports in 2021. What did Thomas do to land a spot as poster child for ESPN’s supposedly pro-woman campaign? He was the first man to clench an NCAA Division I women’s championship.
By elevating Thomas, ESPN joins a slew of companies and organizations that believe men in ladyface represent women and even deserve awards specifically created for females.
ESPN paid no attention to Thomas before he started claiming womanhood. Now that he’s winning competitions against women he’s naturally equipped to outcompete, ESPN and countless corporate media companies shower Thomas with attention, praise, and a platform to spew lies about the biological differences between men and women.
“There’s a lot of factors that go into a race and how well you do, and the biggest change for me is that I’m happy,” Thomas said in an interview last year.
Pro-women activists, commentators, and female athletes know that Thomas isn’t just winning competitions and time in the spotlight because he’s “happy.” As 12-time All-American swimmer Riley Gaines, who tied with Thomas at the NCAA championships in 2022, put it, “Lia Thomas is not a brave, courageous woman who EARNED a national title.”
“He is an arrogant, cheat who STOLE a national title from a hardworking, deserving woman. The @ncaa is responsible. If I was a woman working at ESPN, I would walk out. You’re spineless @espn #boycottESPN,” Gaines tweeted.
The arc of Thomas’s swim career and subsequent publicity is especially offensive because ESPN, one of the swimmer’s No. 1 promoters, has claimed for decades it is dedicated to boosting women in sports and sports media.
In 2010, the network debuted ESPNW, which was designed to “engage and inspire women through sports, presenting articles, interviews and videos at the crossroads of sports and culture.” Despite pushback from viewers who clearly prefer male commentators, ESPN has also been careful in recent years to add more female “voices” to its lineup.
ESPN’s attempt to push women towards the front of the stage is especially noticeable in March, Women’s History Month, when the media company assigns several female commentators to call both the women’s and men’s NCAA tournament games.
As recently as this month, ESPN’s parent company The Walt Disney Company bragged about the network’s plans to “celebrate the breadth and depth of diverse female athletes and female-led stories with a Women’s History Month collection on ESPN+ and content aired on ESPN networks.”
Make no mistake, ESPN’s pro-woman campaign was infiltrated by the wokeness that currently plagues the network long before Thomas decided to grow out his hair. But decades of work spent celebrating the achievements of women are undone when, in the span of just a few years and the change of a swimsuit, a male can be handed a limelight created specifically for females.
It doesn’t matter how many female athletes or women with microphones ESPN elevates between now and the end of the month. The network squandered its opportunity to celebrate women when it began erasing them and replacing them with men.