On Nov. 29, 2023, SpaceXMania published an article positing that the NCAA would be transferring medals won by swimmer Lia Thomas to one of her competitors, Riley Gaines. Thomas became the target of controversy when she became the first transgender woman to win a Division I national championship in the 500 freestyle. According to the article, which began as follows, the NCAA has reassessed the awards Thomas won and decided to award them to Gaines, who has actively campaigned against transgender women being included in women's sports.
Breaking: NCAA To Transfer Medals from Lia Thomas to Riley Gaines
In a surprising and unprecedented move, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has decided to revisit the distribution of medals between Lia Thomas and Riley Gaines, acknowledging a mistake in their initial assessment. The decision, which reflects the complex intersection of fairness, inclusivity, and the evolving landscape of competitive sports, has ignited a fresh wave of conversations within the sporting community.
The article, which was also shared on the site's Facebook page, SpaceX Lovers, gained over 70,000 likes and 6,000 reader comments. In general, the comments supported the NCAA's supposed decision, supporting Gaines and attacking Thomas with transphobic rhetoric.
But none of the article was true, and in fact, some of article incorrectly describes how the NCAA would have approached such a situation. One reason for this is the article's source, SpaceXMania. The site describes its output as satirical and included a tag flagging the story as such on its website, although there was no indication of the claim's satirical intent on the corresponding Facebook post. SpaceXMania's disclaimer page explains further:
Please note that the article under the category “SATIRE” are satirical in nature and are not meant to be taken seriously. These articles are meant to be humorous and are often entirely made up. We make no claim that the information presented in these articles is true or accurate.
Readers should exercise caution and use their own judgment when reading and interpreting our satirical articles. We take no responsibility for any actions taken based on the content of these articles.
Snopes has frequently checked claims made about Thomas and Gaines. Some of these articles feature claims about fictitious lawsuits filed by Gaines against Thomas, or about Thomas being banned from the Olympics in 2024 or for life. These posts all originated from SpaceXMania or other self-described "satirical" websites and are all untrue. Since the publication claims to be satirical in nature, it is unclear how much of the article was intended to be dramatic and humorous (a fan of the publication would likely say that humor was obvious) and how much of it was intended to mislead readers through clickbait. However, given that the inclusion of transgender women in sports is a controversial topic, understanding what is true and what is false is quite important.
This particular claim makes no reference to exactly which medals the NCAA was supposedly taking away from Thomas. Her most notable accomplishment, the 2022 national championship in the 500 freestyle, might make sense at first glance, but Gaines did not compete in the 500 freestyle at the 2022 championship, making the idea that she would receive Thomas' trophy (the NCAA awards trophies, not medals) nonsensical.
Taking the article at face value, the more likely reference is to the 200 freestyle, where Gaines and Thomas tied for fifth place. According to Gaines, the NCAA only had one trophy for fifth place (ties in swimming are quite rare), and elected to give it to Thomas on the podium. Gaines received the sixth place trophy as a stand-in on the podium and received the fifth place trophy in the mail. The two trophies look identical at a glance. Not long after the 2022 championships, the NCAA announced that in the case of a tie, the swimmer who is older will receive the real trophy on the podium. Thomas is older than Gaines by 11 months.
If the NCAA was going to retract Thomas's awards and swims, other swimmers would not benefit from the decision. If the NCAA finds that a university team has competed with ineligible athletes, they will sanction that athlete's team by vacating wins in which the ineligible athletes competed. This has happened in the past. As an example, the 2007-2008 Memphis Tigers men's basketball team was forced to vacate all of its wins after it was found that star player Derrick Rose's SAT score was invalid, making him academically ineligible. That team lost in the national championship game.
But a vacated win does not change the record books. The 2012-2013 Louisville men's basketball team, which won the national championship, was later forced to vacate all of its wins from that year due to a sex scandal. But Michigan, Louisville's opponent in the final, is not listed as having won in their place. Simply put, the wins are deleted but losses still count. If Thomas' championship swims were vacated, the NCAA record books would display an asterisk next to her name explaining that her times were later vacated, as they do with Louisville's 2013 championship in basketball and Southern California's 2004 championship in football.
For background, here is why we sometimes write about satire/humor.