Oklahoma’s governor presses NCAA to change transgender student athlete participation policy

By: - October 31, 2023 4:45 pm

Nine GOP governors argue that women are at a disadvantage when required to compete against transgender athletes. (Getty Images)

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma’s governor is pressing the nation’s top collegiate sports governing body to overhaul its transgender student athlete policies to “guarantee a fair environment” for female athletes.

In a letter, Gov. Kevin Stitt and eight other Republican governors wrote that the NCAA has “the chance to guarantee an environment where female college athletes can thrive without the concern of inequities” but must overhaul its existing Transgender Student Athlete Policy.

The governors said the NCAA currently leaves it to the national governing body of each sport to determine transgender student-athlete participation.

“But this policy allows the NCAA to avoid responsibility for ensuring the fairness of collegiate sports – therefore it must be changed,” the governors of South Dakota, Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming wrote in a joint letter addressed to NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports. It was also sent to NCAA President Charlie Baker and the organization’s board of governors.   

Because of a lack of federal action, the governors said they have become the “last line of defense” for ensuring fairness in female sports. They said many of their states have already passed legislation “to ensure this fairness,” but more can be done.

Oklahoma was the 13th state to ban transgender women and girls from competing on female sports teams. State lawmakers passed the “Save Women’s Sports Act” in 2022.

In their letter, the governors said that it’s “fundamentally unfair” for a biological male to compete against a biological female, and that does not “change when someone declares themselves as being of a different gender.” They said biological men are generally “taller, faster, stronger and have more testosterone than biological women,” and they argued that there’s a scientifically documented athletic performance gap between genders.

“Policies that allow men and women to compete against one another validate an average male athlete stealing the recognition from a truly remarkable female athlete,” they wrote.

The letter also pointed to the performance of track star Allyson Felix who is considered one of the greatest female athletes in her sport. The governors said she once ran a 400-meter race in 49.62 seconds. However, they said high school boys often run faster.

They said Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on sex in activities or education programs that receive federal funding, guarantees women an equal chance to compete. 

Freedom Oklahoma, which advocates on behalf of LGBTQ residents, did not immediately respond Tuesday to a message seeking comment on the letter. 

The group’s executive director though has previously been critical of legislative efforts to limit transgender athletes from participating in sports. 

Nicole McAfee has said taking those opportunities away will not protect other children, but will cause irreparable harm to transgender youth who want to be treated fairly and respectfully and feel like they belong not only in sports, but in Oklahoma.

The NCAA also did not respond to a request for comment as of press time.

In a statement, Stitt said men are biologically different from women.

“We need to ensure a level playing field for female athletes who work hard, who train hard, who are committed to their team, who have dreams to be No. 1 in their sport, who deserve fair competition,” Stitt said. “I signed legislation in Oklahoma protecting women’s sports, and I’m proud to join governors from around the country to call on the NCAA to protect women.”

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Janelle Stecklein
Janelle Stecklein

Janelle Stecklein is editor of Oklahoma Voice. An award-winning journalist, Stecklein has been covering Oklahoma government and politics since moving to the state in 2014.