Gov. Kristi Noem has lost some of her luster

Throughout 2020, there were two governors who stood firm against lockdowns: Ron DeSantis of Florida and Kristi Noem of South Dakota. Both were able to raise their profiles with conservatives because of their stalwart defenses of liberty. At CPAC, both were greeted rapturously, and both have had their names bandied about as potential 2024 Republican presidential candidates. But Noem’s reputation just took a hit when she suddenly went squishy on newly passed legislation in South Dakota prohibiting biological men from competing in high school and college sports.

Two weeks ago, the South Dakota legislature passed a bill holding that men who claim to be women cannot compete on girl’s and women’s sports teams in high school or at college. Governor Noem was initially enthusiastic about the bill.

By last Friday, though, Gov. Noem suddenly announced that the bill was “complicated” and poorly written:

“We’re still looking at it, and I probably, in the next two to three days, will come to a decision,” Noem said in an interview with the Argus Leader on Thursday. “It’s a complicated bill, even in that there are parts of it that aren’t written so well.”

By Saturday, everyone learned what Noem meant when she said the bill was complicated and not written well – it applied to colleges as well as high schools. Therefore, she sent the bill back to the legislature with proposed changes that excluded South Dakota colleges and universities from the bill’s provisions. She created a lengthy Twitter thread explaining her position. In brief, Noem is concerned about both genuine ambiguities and, although she can’t make herself say it, about pressure from national, leftist athletic organizations.

Noem agrees with the general principle that it’s important that women do not have to compete against men, who are faster, stronger, and have better endurance. Still, the bill has problems, some real, some silly, and some political.

To the extent the bill talks about “performance enhancing drugs, including anabolic steroids,” the bill goes beyond fake women and can encompass men taking steroids to get stronger. As written, this would allow a male football player, for example, to sue the school if he discovered that he didn’t make the team because another male player who used steroids did make the team. This is a legitimate concern.

Noem also worried that all schools would have to obtain way too much information every year (and throughout the year) about student athletes. As someone who’s shepherded kids from K through college, this strikes me as a ridiculous concern. Every year across America, schools from kindergarten on up make students turn over massive amounts of personal information. The forms are online and the information is easy to analyze.

And then we finally get to the nub of her texts, which is her concern “that the approach House Bill 1217 takes is unrealistic in the context of collegiate athletics.” Noem speaks of South Dakota’s pride about “gain[ing] national exposure and increase[d] opportunities” for collegiate athletes. They can complete with the best, she says – but this “means compliance with the national governing bodies that oversee collegiate athletics.” For that reason, she wants colleges excluded from the bill.

Translated into English, Noem is trying to thread the needle between keeping men out of women’s sports and keeping South Dakota’s collegiate sports competitive nationwide. At Red State, shipwreckedcrew explains the problem:

She is bending to the reality that the NCAA could sanction South Dakota universities obligated to follow South Dakota law, should she sign the legislation as written to include university athletics.

The NCAA has pointed to laws in Idaho and North Carolina as excuses to pull NCAA sanctioned events from those states. The next step in forcing compliance with the NCAA’s policy would be to preclude teams from offending states from participating in NCAA sanctioned events.

The NCAA is dominated by big, leftist colleges and they get to make the rules. They will punish any college (or state) that refuses to play on the NCAA’s side in the culture wars. You can assume that other college athletic bodies will do the same.

Noem had three choices:

  1. Announce that South Dakota is going to be a player in the culture wars and refuse to yield to leftist bullying;
  2. Announce very loudly that leftist bullying is what’s forcing her to yield so as not to destroy completely any semblance of competitive women’s sports in South Dakota; or
  3. Issue a squishy statement that backs away from her state’s taking a stand in the culture war, while at the same time failing to let everyone know exactly what kind of bullying forced her into that position.

Noem chose option number 3. It remains to be seen whether that will jettison any hopes she has of running for president in three years.

IMAGE: Kristi Noem. Rumble screengrab.