High School Athlete Injured When a ‘Biological Male’ Spiked a Volleyball in Her Face Fires Latest Salvo in War Over Trans Women in Sports

Payton McNabb’s ordeal comes as a civil war breaks out at liberal ESPN over whether trangender athletes should be allowed to compete in women’s sports.

AP/Hannah Schoenbaum
A senior at Hiwassee Dam High School at Murphy, North Carolina, Payton McNabb, at the North Carolina Legislative Building, April 19, 2023, at Raleigh. AP/Hannah Schoenbaum

 A high school volleyball player who says she was seriously injured when a transgender woman spiked a ball in her face is the latest example seized on by opponents of transgender women competing in women’s sports. 

Payton McNabb’s testimonial comes as a civil war has broken out at ESPN, with two commentators taking a stance opposing the liberal network’s support of transgender female athletes competing against women. 

Ms. McNabb, a North Carolina high school senior volleyball player, spoke in favor this week of a state bill to bar transgender women and girls from competing on female middle school, high school, and college sports teams, saying she was seriously injured in September when a transgender player on an opposing team spiked a volleyball into her face. Ms. McNabb says she sustained a concussion and neck injuries, and still suffers from partial paralysis on her right side, vision impairment, learning difficulties, anxiety, and constant headaches.

“Allowing biological males to compete against biological females is dangerous,” Ms. McNabb said. “I may be the first to come before you with an injury, but if this [bill] doesn’t pass, I won’t be the last.”

An All-American swimmer, Riley Gaines, who has become the face of the “save women’s sports” movement after she was out-raced by a transgender female swimmer, Lia Thomas, stood behind Ms. McNabb as she spoke at the podium. “My time playing is coming to an end,” Ms. McNabb said. “I am here for every biological female athlete behind me: my little sister, my cousins, my teammates.”

The North Carolina house passed the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act” Wednesday, and the state senate passed a different version of the bill on Thursday. Republican supermajorities in the legislature will likely ensure that some version of the bill becomes law even if the Democrat governor, Roy Cooper, vetoes it.  

“It’s sad it takes a girl being permanently injured by a male to highlight why we need sex protected sports,” Ms. Gaines tweeted, along with videos of Ms. McNabb’s testimony and of her getting injured in the volleyball game. The tweet has more than 53,000 likes.

More than 20 states have passed legislation in the last three years barring transgender athletes from competing on teams that align with their gender identity. Transgender rights — particularly in sports — has become a lightning rod political issue.

ESPN “Sunday NFL Countdown” host, Samantha Ponder, came out this week in support of Ms. Gaines and against the Biden administration’s proposed Title IX rule change — which would bar blanket bans on transgender participation in the sports team that aligns with a person’s gender identity — signaling a crack in the network’s hitherto unwavering support for transgender athletes.

Ms. Ponder’s support of Ms. Gaines is a break with the generally liberal editorial stance of ESPN, which recently honored Lia Thomas with a segment for its “Celebrating Women’s History Month.”

Ms. Thomas, who was born a man and swam on the University of Pennsylvania men’s team for the first three years of her college career before coming out as transgender, won gold in the NCAA women’s championships last year. That she trounced her opponents by more than a body length and broke women’s records caused outrage and brought the issue of fairness in women’s sports — and how to accommodate transgender athletes — to the nation’s attention.

“This would take away so many opportunities for biological women and girls in sports,” Ms. Ponder tweeted Wednesday about the Biden administration’s Title IX proposed rule change. “It is a shame that we are needing to fight for the integrity of Title IX in 2023 and the reason it was needed in the first place. #savewomensports.”

Ms. Ponder is not the first ESPN anchor to come out against transgender women competing in women’s sports, but she is one of the network’s biggest stars. Earlier this month, also breaking with her network, anchor Sage Steele defended Ms. Gaines on Twitter. 

A former ESPN interviewer, Charly Arnolt, went on Fox News this week to criticize ESPN, saying, “I think there’s a lot of women who are uncomfortable about standing up for women’s rights because they don’t want to be considered politically incorrect, because it’s really crazy where this world and this conversation has gone.”

It seems unlikely ESPN will skate by unscathed on this third-rail issue so central to today’s sports discourse. The network is still recovering from the criticism it received for enabling anti-Trump commentary from the likes of Jemele Hill, who left ESPN after calling President Trump a white supremacist.

On Thursday, the U.S. House passed a bill that would prohibit transgender women and girls from competing in women’s athletic programs, moving what has heretofore been a fight primarily in state legislatures onto the national stage.

H.R. 734, the “Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act,” passed along partisan lines, with Republicans supporting it and Democrats opposing it. The legislation would undermine the Biden administration’s Title IX rule change by amending Title IX to make it a violation “to permit a person whose sex is male to participate in an athletic program or activity that is designated for women or girls.” The legislation defines sex as “based solely on a person’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth.”

While the bill’s passage made a splash, it is unlikely to be taken up in the Democrat-controlled Senate. President Biden has vowed to veto the legislation if it makes it to his desk.

That hasn’t stopped Republicans and advocates for natal female-only participation in women’s sports from taking a victory lap. “In the face of a woke agenda that is taking away long fought protections for women in sports, House Republicans took action,” the chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, Elise Stefanik, said in a statement.

“I’m grateful to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy for his outstanding leadership on this critical issue and commitment to fight for fairness, privacy, and safety for girls and women in sports,” Ms. Gaines said in a statement. “The number of female athletes who have been denied opportunities, traumatized, or hurt by policies that claim to promote ‘inclusion’ is growing at an alarming rate.”

Opposition to the bill — and those like it in state legislatures — is fierce. “Don’t believe for a second that this is about protecting women and girls, because if Republicans cared about that they would not be voting against equal pay, against paid sick leave, against universal childcare,” Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, who has a transgender daughter, said in a debate Wednesday.

“With rising visibility has come a backlash,” a senior attorney for a LGBTQ legal and advocacy organization, Lambda Legal, Shasha Buchert, tells the Sun. “It’s definitely a difficult and dark moment.”

“Make no mistake: HR 734 is part of a national effort to target and dehumanize LGBTQI+ people,” the executive director of a transgender rights in sports advocacy group, Athlete Ally, Hudson Taylor, said. “There has been a tidal wave of legislation attempting to sideline transgender, nonbinary, and intersex athletes from sports that bring them joy.”

The ACLU says it is tracking more than 450 bills “attacking the rights of transgender people” in state legislatures across the country. It condemned H.R. 734’s passage.

Americans, though, largely agree with Ms. Gaines and Ms. Ponder, with 58 percent saying transgender women should not compete in college or professional women’s sports, according to a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll. When it comes to youth sports, 49 percent of Americans think transgender girls should not compete with girls, while 33 percent say they should be permitted, and 17 percent are undecided.

Transgender issues have taken a front seat in the culture war in the last few months. The fissures forming at ESPN are a testament to that. That Ms. Gaines was attacked by transgender rights activists at the University of San Francisco earlier this month is as well. 

The far left says bills barring transgender participation in women’s sports are hateful and discriminatory. The far right is preoccupied with “transgender ideology” affecting their children. Most Americans fall somewhere in the middle: 64 percent say transgender persons should be protected from discrimination, according to Pew. Yet when it comes to “fairness in competition,” their views are more nuanced.

The New York Sun

© 2024 The New York Sun Company, LLC. All rights reserved.

Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. The material on this site is protected by copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used.

The New York Sun

Sign in or  create a free account

By continuing you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use