News & Politics

No, Kristi Noem Is Not Playing 4-D Chess on Women's Sports. Here's How We Know

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File

Last Friday, Gov. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) issued a “style and form” veto against a bill to protect fairness in women’s sports. She claimed she supports the bill but urged alterations that arguably “neutered” the legislation. This week, Noem has vociferously defended her action, claiming that she had to weaken the bill in order to win the longer-term battle against woke activists who would have issued powerful boycotts against South Dakota had she signed the legislation.

“I’m not interested in picking a fight that we can’t win,” Noem told Tucker Carlson.

I am sympathetic to Noem’s argument and I wanted to believe her. After all, when Gov. Pat McCrory (R-N.C.) signed House Bill 2 — which designated public non-single-stall restrooms along the lines of biological sex instead of gender identity — “woke” business leaders mounted a powerful campaign to boycott the state and the NCAA canceled sports tournaments. This pressure campaign succeeded in getting McCrory to weaken his legislation through an executive order.

I also happen to like Kristi Noem. She has taken important stands against the Left on a host of issues, such as COVID-19 lockdowns, abortion, religious liberty, and more. She claimed the veto is a temporary measure and that she was launching a new coalition of governors to defend women’s sports together.

Two of my colleagues at PJ Media — Stacey Lennox and Brian Darling — took Noem at her word. Darling claimed Noem was playing 4-D chess, accepting a small sacrifice for a long-term strategy.

I’d love to believe that, but the evidence does not support it.

Be Patient. Kristi Noem Is Playing 4-D Chess on the NCAA and Women’s Sports.

In the weeks before her veto, Noem refused to meet with advocates of the bill to protect women’s sports. Also, coalitions like the one Noem claims to have started already exist.

“I can confirm that from all our sources on the ground in South Dakota, which includes legislators, Gov. Noem froze out all supporters of the bill in the two weeks prior to her veto (and even before that; proponents of the bill tried and failed to meet with her for months),” Paul Dupont, communications director at American Principles Project (APP), which supports the South Dakota bill, told PJ Media.

Dupont noted Darling’s claim that Noem is “rounding up states to oppose biological males competing in college athletics without the fear of the NCAA making an example out of one state.”

“This would perhaps make sense if South Dakota was the first and only state pursuing such legislation. But in reality, two states have already enacted such laws (Idaho and Mississippi), one has passed a similar law awaiting a signature from its governor (Arkansas) and dozens of others have had legislation introduced,” Dupont noted. “Noem doesn’t need to start a new coalition — there’s one that has been building already for quite a while now. What that coalition needs most is for Noem to join with these other states in standing up to the NCAA’s threats.”

Darling also claimed that “Noem is trying to both protect her state’s male and female athletes from the woke NCAA punishing South Dakota for passing this law and her efforts to focus on strengthening Title IX.”

“If that is truly her aim, she is failing to do either,” Dupont argued. “By effectively killing the bill (the changes she is suggesting to the bill render it unenforceable and will likely be rejected by the legislature), she is not protecting her state’s female athletes; she is leaving them completely vulnerable to the dictates of the woke NCAA. And by refusing to sign the bill, she is signalling weakness and blunting the momentum toward taking real action to protect Title IX.”

Kristi Noem Celebrates International Women’s Day by Protecting Women’s Sports

“Bottom line: Gov. Noem is trying to pull a fast one on conservatives; making it seem like her surrender to threats from the NCAA, Amazon, etc. is actually her following a ‘nuanced’ strategy to protect women’s sports. But the best thing she could do right now for female athletes in her state, and nationwide, is to sign the bill, and not doing so, no matter how she spins it, will actually prove to be a hindrance to efforts to defend girls’ sports and Title IX,” he argued.

Dupont said he and his fellows at APP “would love to believe” that Noem is following some grand strategy, “but one would think if this were her strategy all along, she would have mentioned it when she initially announced her style and form veto last Friday, and not waited until a hastily convened press conference the following week.”

Kristen Waggoner, general counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the law firm that has been at the forefront of the battle to protect fairness in women’s sports from transgender activism, also countered Noem’s claims.

“Not only is Governor Noem late to the game, she’s pretending to be the coach,” Waggoner quipped. “ADF, along with a large coalition of athletes, legislators, governors, attorneys general from 14 states, and many others have been working in courts and legislatures to protect every female athlete—from kindergarten to college—from being forced to compete against males.”

“Gov. Noem has never taken any interest in this coalition, but we invite her to join this effort,” Waggoner added. “No need to reinvent the wheel. We have a website and everything.”

It stands to reason that governors might want to be cautious in taking such an important stand against the woke Left. After all, companies that have absolutely no connection to LGBT issues or sports have virtue-signaled their opposition to commonsense measures to protect fairness in women’s sports, and South Dakota can ill-afford to be the lone voice of reason if it comes with massive boycotts.

Yet South Dakota would not be the first state to take this important step, and the coalition Noem claims to be building already exists. By weakening the bill and slowing down the progress of the coalition ADF and APP have created, Noem is harming the overall effort, not helping it. That’s a real shame.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.

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