Riley Gaines Wary of New NCAA Chief’s Vague Answers on Girls’ Sports
When new NCAA President Charlie Baker came to D.C. to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday, the topic wasn’t girls’ sports. But that didn’t stop conservatives like Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) from putting the former Massachusetts governor on the hotseat about it.
During a discussion that was supposed to tackle college name, image, and likeness rights, a handful of leaders managed to slip in questions about an issue that most parents think is more pressing: the trans takeover of their daughters’ locker rooms and teams. Deep into the conversation, the Missouri senator — who’d hosted former University of Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines for a hearing in July — asked Baker point-blank if it was still the NCAA’s policy to force girls to share private changing spaces with biological men. Gaines and the other women “were not forewarned, not asked for their consent … and did not give their consent.”
“First of all,” Baker replied, “I’m not going to defend what happened in 2022. I wasn’t there. I was still governor of the commonwealth,” he insisted. “What I will say is, we have very specific rules and standards around the safety and security of all our student athletes, and anyone who hosts one of our national championships has to accept that they know what they are and then abide by them accordingly.” He added, “I don’t believe that policy would be the policy we would use today.”
When will there be “specificity on that?” Baker was asked. “As I said before,” he answered, “the rules around transgender athletes generally are more restrictive today than they were in ‘22. And I can state pretty clearly that no one’s going to get forced into any sort of situation that’s going to make them uncomfortable. We make that very clear in the guidance that we give to anybody who hosts one of our championships, period,” he explained.
Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) recognized that Baker wasn’t in charge last year but insisted “it’s still relevant for us to ask what’s been done [about it].” “I’d like to know first — have you apologized to those female athletes and any others similarly situated for the trauma that was inflicted on them as a result of those decisions by the NCAA?” The former governor reiterated that he wasn’t there. “That wasn’t my question,” Lee insisted. “I don’t know the answer to that question,” Baker finally admitted. “I’ll have to get back to you.”
Riley Gaines knew right away what the answer was: no. On an episode of her OutKick podcast, Gaines For Girls, she talked about the exchange. Regardless of whether he was president in 2022 or not, the former All-American argued, “Mr. Baker understood the severity of what the female Division I swimmers dealt with at our NCAA Championships.” He knows, she explained, because she told him.
“I wrote a letter to him in January 2023 before he assumed his new NCAA role. I explained the general consensus of how the female athletes felt disregarded and betrayed by the unfair competition and lack of privacy and vulnerability in our locker rooms where male genitalia was on full display. I explained how athletes, coaches, administrators, and parents were silenced amidst the controversy. I explained why it’s crucial to understand the scientific evidence that shows the impossibility of leveling the collegiate playing field through hormone therapy.”
Then, Gaines said, “I asked for an opportunity to meet face-to-face and sit down with him to better explain my — and so many other female athletes’ — perspective and to work together to create a solution that would provide everyone a place where they can play fairly and safely.” Ten months went by. “I’ve yet to receive a reply.”
To the face of the women’s sports movement, that’s incredibly disappointing because she was excited by the prospect of Emmert’s replacement. Why? “… [B]ecause Mr. Baker has a reputation for fairness and for considering all viewpoints. He was an accomplished student-athlete at Harvard. He has a daughter who is about my age who played sports growing up. Because of all this, I imagined that he would be adamant about prioritizing fairness and the integrity of sports rather than creating guidelines that limit opportunities for females under the guise of promoting ‘inclusion.’”
To those who think the vague concessions he made in this week’s hearing are a step forward, Gaines disagrees. “Let me be clear: the guidelines he mentioned [in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing] are no less harmful to women, no less discriminatory to women than those in 2022. Without single-sex competition, there can be no equal athletic opportunity.”
As fellow NCAA Division I swimmer Paula Scanlan explained, “My teammates and I were forced to undress in the presence of Lia [Thomas], a 6-foot-4-tall biological male, fully intact with male genitalia, 18 times per week.” But, as so many female athletes have said, “When we tried to voice our concerns to the athletic department, we were told that Lia’s swimming and being in our locker room was a non-negotiable, and we were offered psychological services to attempt to re-educate us to become comfortable with the idea of undressing in front of a male.”
The people in authority, Gaines has argued — the NCAA officials, the coaches, other men — didn’t have the guts to defend their girls. And yet, whenever Riley saw them privately, they promised to have her back. “I can’t even tell you how frustrating that is to have these people who have the power to make these changes basically look me and my teammates, and the other people I am advocating with, in my face and tell me, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing, we have the power to help, and we think we should help, but we’re not going to help,’” Gaines said.
Even Baker’s predecessor, Mark Emmert, who’s responsible for this mess, told Gaines earlier this year, “‘Keep doing what you’re doing, we support you. We agree with you.’ So in my conversations with these people,” Riley shook her head, “95% of them agreed with protecting women’s sports — they are too scared to say it.”
In the meantime, Family Research Council’s Meg Kilgannon told The Washington Stand, everyone is “tired of trying to read between the lines in the statements of men who are supposed to govern national and international sports bodies. This is very simple. You protect women’s sports, or you don’t. You protect bodily privacy, or you don’t. You think men can become women, or you don’t. Equivocating testimony at Senate hearings is not going to cut it.”
Suzanne Bowdey serves as editorial director and senior writer at The Washington Stand.