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Martina Navratilova apologizes for calling trans athletes 'cheats'

“I certainly was not suggesting that transgender athletes in general are cheats,” the tennis great said.
Image: Martina Navratilova attends a press conference in Rio de Janeiro on March 11, 2013.
Martina Navratilova at a press conference in Rio de Janeiro on March 11, 2013.Buda Mendes / Getty Images file

Martina Navratilova apologized for her controversial comments last month labeling transgender athletes “cheats,” which led Athlete Ally, an LGBTQ sports nonprofit, to sever ties with the tennis great.

"I know that my use of the word ‘cheat’ caused particular offence among the transgender community," the tennis great wrote on her personal website this past weekend. "I’m sorry for that because I certainly was not suggesting that transgender athletes in general are cheats."

In February, Navratilova wrote an op-ed in The Sunday Times titled “The rules on trans athletes reward cheats and punish the innocent,” writing, “Letting men compete as women simply if they change their name and take hormones is unfair — no matter how those athletes may throw their weight around.”

Navratilova, a lesbian who has been vocal about gay inclusion in sports for decades, was then criticized by many in the LGBTQ community for her comments, which some thought were transphobic.

In her response over the weekend, Navratilova claimed she was unfairly criticized for her comments last month.

“Well, I certainly stumbled into a hornets’ nest,” Navratilova wrote. “The support I normally get from ‘my people’, the LGBT community, was replaced by a barrage of quite nasty personal attacks.”

In her latest statement, Navratilova did not backtrack on her sentiment, just her phrasing, and added more context to her thoughts.

“When I talk about sports and rules that must be fair, I am not trying to exclude trans people from living a full, healthy life,” she said. “All I am trying to do is to make sure girls and women who were born female are competing on as level a playing field as possible within their sport.”

Following Navratilova's controversial February op-ed, Rachel McKinnon, the first transgender woman to win a world title in track cycling, told NBC News that Navratilova's comments perpetuate many people's "irrational fear and aversion to trans women."

"She trades on age-old stereotypes and stigma against trans women, treating us as men just pretending to be real women,” McKinnon said.

In her latest op-ed, Navratilova said: “I know I don’t have all the answers. I don’t think there is a definitive answer here." She added that she simply wants “debate” and “conversation that includes everyone and is based, as I have said, not on feeling or emotion but science."

But for many trans athletes, the debate Navratilova wants to have is one that questions their very existence.

After her February op-ed was published, Athlete Ally said Navratilova’s comments are “based on a false understanding of science and data, and perpetuate dangerous myths that lead to the ongoing targeting of trans people through discriminatory laws, hateful stereotypes and disproportionate violence.”