Kentucky’s Riley Gaines Tees Off on Swimming Against a Man

CLAY: I think you guys are really going to enjoy our only guest here for Monday’s edition of the program. She is Riley Gaines, a senior swimmer at the University of Kentucky. She tied with Lia Thomas — biological man, who has decided to identify as a woman — in this 200-yard freestyle NCAA swimming championships. And this is… There’s so many interesting topics to discuss.

But, first of all, Riley, I want to say, thank you for coming on and actually being willing to discuss this because so many people who are women swimmers have been afraid to say what they really believe about this issue. So I want to start with this. What, in your experience, was it like to swim against a biological man who was identifying as a woman, and what now your fellow competitors think about that experience? You are a senior. Theoretically, this was the end of your college swimming career. What was it like to be down in Atlanta in the last couple of weeks competing there?

GAINES: Right. Thank you guys so much for having me. I’ve been super excited to talk about it. But, you know, kind of leading up to the meet, I wasn’t really too sure what to expect, you know. Getting there, you know, racing and stuff, what kind of environment it would be, how people would feel about it, because like you said so many girls hadn’t really mentioned how they felt or, you know, their true feelings going into the meet. And so I was just so curious.

And then, you know, getting there and racing, I got to talk to other competitors and stuff and see how they felt, and I definitely realized who the silent majority in this whole issue is. And so it was a bit disheartening, you know, watching it. The day before I competed I watch Lia from the 500 freestyle, which was an event I was not in, and it was really just heartbreaking, you know, seeing the girls get ninth and 17th place. But then the next day going into it, my race, it just felt defeating before you even raced, really, which is not a feeling I’m used to.

BUCK: Hey, Riley, it’s Buck. I’m wondering as you’re saying this about the silent majority on this issue. Do you come across any of your peers, female swimmers who really think that this situation is fair, or is it almost entirely the recognition that there are adults out there, media outlets, NCAA bureaucrats, et cetera, who may come down on them for speaking out? So essentially is the silence of many on this issue just a function of their fear of the consequences for speaking out as you are right now, or do you come across female swimmers who honestly believe that Lia Thomas does not have a biological advantage and that this is fine?

GAINES: I haven’t personally talked to anyone who does not think she has a biological advantage, because I think there’s no denying that. There are swimmers who are more supportive of it, but there’s definitely the vast majority, you know, don’t think it’s fair to women who, you know, have been, in terms of, you know, the past century, you know, historically oppressed, where a lot of people would use the argument that transgenders are oppressed?

Well, you know, so have women been. And so I would say that a lot of people do kind of have this fear of speaking out especially in today’s culture where it’s just so easy to get, you know, canceled, as they say, which is something that can affect your future career, all kinds of things, and so people don’t want to get, you know, dragged down with that.

CLAY: We’re talking to Riley Gaines, University of Kentucky senior swimmer who competed against Lia Thomas, transgender swimmer, at the NCAA championships. Riley, what is the process like — and I believe I saw you comment on this in a Daily Wire article? Do you guys share dressing rooms? Do you share locker rooms with a biological male who identifies as a woman in advance of the competitions or after the competitions? And if so, how awkward is that given the history, obviously, of women’s competitors having women’s locker rooms and men’s competitors having men’s locker rooms?

GAINES: Right. So the meet last week was an all-female meet and so there wasn’t even a male locker room because there just are, you know, no males on deck, and so going into the meet we were all curious what the situation would be, and so we were just told that we could all use that locker room which is, you know, not a norm sharing locker rooms like that. And so it was a bit shocking that, you know, that was allowed. That’s a whole different issue within itself. And so I will see we were all extremely surprised and, you know, uncomfortable with that because there are girls who that’s not something they would agree to doing, you know, to consent to, and so it just seems like —

CLAY: So, sorry to cut you off here but I just wanted to build on this a little bit. So you have a biological man who is allowed to come into the locker room that you guys are in preparing to compete, getting ready to swim, and he is using the same locker room as you guys are? And if so what is the reaction in the locker room? Because historically if a man walks into a women’s locker room, that’s a crime in many jurisdictions for virtually everyone out there listening. This is just normalized as, “Oh, he’s going to be able to use the locker room because he identifies as a woman,” and you’re not allowed to say or do anything to disagree with that?

GAINES: Right. I think the NCAA, you know, did make it seem like it was something that, “Oh, we’ll just all share locker rooms!” But, you know, there’s so many girls who, you know, even have faced sexual assault, and this kind of thing can be traumatic on just so many different levels.

CLAY: No doubt.

GAINES: And so going into that locker room the first day and, you know, kind of seeing in there, it was just silent, really. I think it just took all of us by just complete and utter shock, really.

BUCK: We’re speaking to Riley Gaines. She is a senior at the University of Kentucky. She was a swimmer who tied with Lia Thomas at the NCAA swimming championship in the 200-yard freestyle back on the 18th of March. Riley, do you feel like the conversation is changing now? Essentially, after this Lia Thomas situation, is it now do you think trending toward this will become the norm when there’s a transgender swimmer, or is the pushback growing to the point where there will be a different approach? And as somebody who has swam for many years, competed at the highest level of the NCAA in your sport, what do you think would be a fair policy here? What do you think should happen?

GAINES: Right. I think since the article I released that the Daily Wire came out, more females have been willing to speak up but there’s just so many who, you know, don’t want to face that backlash, and so I am sorry what the future looks like. But I do the NCAA President Mark Emmert, I believe his name is, released a statement today saying that pretty much unequivocally and firmly stand with, you know, what the rules have been in place.

And so I believe every athlete deserves to compete if they want no matter what, you know, category you may fall in. And I believe everyone should be treated with respect and dignity. But there’s a reason why Olympians don’t compete with Paralympians, and there’s a reason why, you know, you don’t have collegiate athletes on a 12-and-under team. And so there’s just, you know, these divisions and these boundaries that have to be made for things to, you know, remain fair — and it’s not a political argument. It’s not any hate towards one person or one group. But it’s just a matter of fairness and what’s right.

BUCK: Have any administrators or staff personnel, anybody tried to coerce your opinions on this to try to say, “Hey, watch out,” or, “You shouldn’t do this,” or has anyone threatened consequences for you at the university for speaking out? I’m just wondering where the pressure might be coming from.

GAINES: No. My university specifically, you know, has offered me a ton of support, and they want to protect me and want to make sure, you know, that I know what I’m doing and I don’t put myself in some sort of pickle. But they’ve been extremely supportive and I’m super-duper thankful for that, but I know there has been some girls from universities, even some parents have reached out to me saying that coaches and athletic directors and, you know, SIDs have told their swimmers that they’re not allowed to say anything no matter how they feel.

And so it just really kind of puts this, you know, barricade up for so many athletes who have a voice and want to use it but are scared of, you know, repercussions — whether that may be within your institution or, you know, like I said earlier your future career endeavors — and so I do believe there’s, you know, kind of this big wall up.

CLAY: Riley, I’m assuming you started swimming at a super-young age before you obviously went to the University of Kentucky. You’re a senior now. Do you think — and, first of all, again, congrats to you for having the bravery to speak out.

GAINES: Thank you so much.

CLAY: But do you think about what sports could look like in the future? And thank you for coming on the show. When we’re talking about one transgender athlete right now. But in theory, there will be more in the years ahead. We had… In speaking to your point about women not wanting to speak out, several of the U Penn women’s team members reached out to the site that I run, OutKick.

And they said, “We’re not allowed to put our actual names on it because they told us we’re not allowed to speak, basically, on this issue.” But several of those girls said, “If we had three or four transgender people on a swim team, it destroys women’s sports in many ways.” Are you concerned about the future of women’s athletics in general as more biological men decide to identify as women, and where could that lead if it continues to grow?

GAINES: Yeah, for sure. I think this opens a whole can of worms seeing a biological male win a national title against Olympians, really, and so I think it just opens a whole ‘nother door to a whole different realm, and it does put women’s athletics and women’s sports in total danger, really. And I think if the NCAA doesn’t recognize that, I think there will be a big consequence for women.

BUCK: Riley Gaines. Riley, thank you so much for speaking on this issue, your bravery on it. We appreciate people telling the truth about what’s actually going on who are experiencing it themselves. Thank you so much.

GAINES: Yeah, thank you guys.

CLAY: That is Riley Gaines, University of Kentucky senior swimmer.