JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Sports in Florida could look quite a bit different after The Fairness in Women’s Sports Act was signed into law on Tuesday morning in Jacksonville.
Now, it’s all eyes on how the NCAA will react.
The sweeping education bill signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis on the campus of Trinity Christian Academy contains numerous provisions, but the most polarizing is the part that bans transgender athletes from competing in sports at the middle school through college levels.
The law (SB 1028) goes into effect on July 1. It will make athletic eligibility contingent on an athlete’s biological sex on their birth certificate. It also has the potential for a cascade of problems in the future, including the NCAA’s veiled threat of not holding championship events in states with laws such as this one.
Manny Velasquez-Paredes, a local director and advocate for the LGBTQ+ community, said the timing of the bill was questionable.
“It has been signed on the first day of Pride Month, to begin with, something the LGBTQ looks forward to,” he said. “And this particular bill that is really going to affect the LGBTQ community, especially the trans community, to be signed on this first day of Pride month is a little bit crazy, to say the least.”
The Florida High School Athletic Association has had a policy in place regarding transgender athletes since the 2013-14 school year, one that a local athletic director called “progressive” and “ahead of the curve.”
According to multiple reports, the FHSAA has had just 11 athletes apply to compete under bylaw 16.8, labeled Gender Identity Participation. The FHSAA said on Tuesday that all 11 of those athletes were approved to play.
Public relations specialist Ashton Moseley said on Tuesday that “as the governing organization of high school athletics in the State of Florida, the FHSAA will be following all Florida laws.”
At the high school level locally, none of the coaches contacted said that they have had a transgender athlete on their team before.
But proponents of the law say that it is meant to protect female athletes, not discriminate against them.
Trinity Christian student Reagan Griffis said that she supports the law for a number of reasons, the biggest one fairness in competition.
“I think it is [fair], just because the genetic makeup between boys and girls is very different and women deserve their right to have their area where they can succeed in sports,” she said. “And it is different for men. I have played little games like Wiffle ball with men and you can tell they dominate because they are bigger and stronger and faster.”
At the high school level locally, numerous coaches contacted Tuesday said that they have never had a transgender athlete on their team before.
On the college level, the law could be far more substantial. The NCAA released a statement on April 12 saying, in part, “When determining where championships are held, NCAA policy directs that only locations where hosts can commit to providing an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination should be selected.”
If the NCAA does decide to move championships from states, it would certainly affect Florida.
“They are not going to dictate the policies in this state,” DeSantis said. “We will stand up to groups like the NCAA who think they should be able to dictate the policies in different states. Not here. Not ever.”
Between next year and 2026, the NCAA has 26 championship events scheduled to be played in Florida. The 2023 and ’25 track and field East regionals will be held at UNF, and the University of Florida is hosting the women’s gymnastics championships in 2024.
Both UNF and JU declined to comment Tuesday on the bill signed by DeSantis and how it may affect college sports going forward.
“If the NCAA was to pull out of any of these states it would cause a lot of further issues,” Velasquez-Paredes said. “Not only the future of these athletes but from a financial perspective of the community at large because as a community we would be losing out on many of the extra income that comes along with all of these games that are played locally.”