Swimming World Presents – Lia Neal Co-Creates “Swimmers For Change” to Promote Diversity and Inclusion in the Swimming Community

SW October 2020 - Lia Neal - Working For Change - Co-Founds Swimmers For Change To Promote Diversity and Inclusion
Two-time Olympian Lia Neal

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Lia Neal: Working For Change

By David Rieder

In response to the Black Lives Matter movement, elite swimmers Lia Neal and Jacob Pebley created Swimmers for Change to promote diversity and to make swimming a more inclusive sport and a more inclusive community.

 

In late May, the gruesome murder of George Floyd, an African American man, by Minneapolis police officers sparked a national outcry for racial justice throughout the United States and led to the invigoration of the Black Lives Matter movement. Throughout cities across the country and even the globe, protestors took to the streets to demand a dissolution of the systemic racism built into the fabric of society, justice for the black men and women inexcusably murdered by police officers and an end to police violence against minorities.

Inevitably, in short order, the Black Lives Matter movement found its way to swimming. Members of the American swimming community of all races and ethnicities began speaking out and demanding justice and change.

Meanwhile, Lia Neal, one of the pioneers for African Americans swimming on the elite level, took center stage in demanding for change both behind the scenes and in the public eye.
Neal is a two-time U.S. Olympian, who represented the U.S. in the 400 free relay at the 2012 Olympics while just 17 years old, and then again qualified for the Rio Olympics in 2016. She has won two Olympic relay medals along with five World Championship medals—and she is mixed race, of both African American and Chinese descent.

Nowadays, Neal is a steady presence on national teams, but since 2000, only five black or mixed race swimmers have qualified to represent the U.S. in the Olympics. Yes, five. Along with Neal, there have been Anthony Ervin, Maritza Correia, Cullen Jones and Simone Manuel. All have won Olympic medals, but each Olympic team averages 55 to 60 swimmers total, and African Americans make up 13.4% of the U.S. population. Five total swimmers over five Olympic cycles represents a sport with a glaring lack of diversity.

Shortly after the murder that sparked the movement, Neal became a founding member of the Black Leadership in Aquatics Coalition (BLAC), a group of 14 current and former members of the U.S. national team that began working with and advising USA Swimming on racial issues around this time. Among BLAC’s earliest actions, the group worked with USA Swimming to craft a statement that reflected the premise that used the words “black lives matter” in the aftermath of Floyd’s murder, and the group has continued to work with USA Swimming to put in place new measures to promote diversity and inclusion in swimming.

The second and more front-facing effort that Neal took up to promote diversity and inclusion came in tandem with fellow 2016 Olympian Jacob Pebley. Pebley remembers swimming
at practice one day shortly after Floyd’s murder and feeling ticked off about police violence and racism. So he texted Neal, his teammate at Team Elite in San Diego, looking for ideas about what he could do to spur change.

“He was feeling what a lot of people were feeling around that time, when things were starting to really unfold in just feeling a little bit helpless,” Neal said. “Jacob came to me asking, ‘What can we, as swimmers, do ourselves?’

It just wasn’t worth it to wait for the bigger national governing body to do something because every day that was passing since especially George Floyd’s death, it was just an opportunity lost.”

That’s how Swimmers for Change came to be, as an endeavor to make swimming a more inclusive sport and a more inclusive community. “It was a way of having the same community—a predominantly white sport and white community—step up and show their support as allies for the black community to just say that black lives matter. That very simple and what many would say is common sense or morally right ideology was just something that wasn’t being said.”

Pebley and Neal decided to launch a series of webcasts, two weeks of one-hour shows hosted by national team athletes. The webcasts would raise money through selling merchandise and T-shirts that would then be donated to organizations that promoted inclusion and diversity in swimming. The swimmers hosting each show chose the particular group to whom they would direct funds raised the day of their shows and then promoted Swimmers for Change through social media and their sponsorships.

Pebley hoped that the message of Swimmers for Change would spread and make a widespread impact, but he realized that it wouldn’t even take that much to make a significant difference.
“Nikki, my wife, told me, ‘There will be one small black swimmer that will see this and see the support, not only from Lia and Cullen, but from the white swimmers, too,’” Pebley said. “If I could just impact one person in that way with this, then it’s absolutely worth it. It’s worth it over doing absolutely nothing. For me, that’s what gave me the courage to do it, and I saw that.”

To read more about Lia Neal and Swimmers For Change,
Check out the full article in Swimming World’s October 2020 issue, available now!

SW October 2020 - Lia Neal - Working For Change COVER[PHOTO CREDIT: BECCA WYANT/FINIS, INC. PHOTOGRAPHY]

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Swimming World Magazine October 2020 Issue

FEATURES

012 WORKING FOR CHANGE
by David Rieder
In response to the Black Lives Matter movement, elite swimmers Lia Neal and Jacob Pebley created Swimmers for Change to promote diversity and to make swimming a more inclusive sport and a more inclusive community.

020 THE TROUBLE WITH SPRINTERS (Part 4): REVISITING THE CAREER OF GARY HALL JR.
by Bruce Wigo
As Dave Marsh and Mike Bottom explained in the previous issue, if there is a problem with sprinters, it is because, mentally, they are wired differently from other athletes. Potential trouble then seems to start when coaches and administrators are unable to understand their behavior and their needs. But while causing trouble for some, the aquatic sports world would not be where it is today without the rebellious personalities of sprinters.

026 DEFYING ALL ODDS
by John Lohn
There is no doubt that the Summer of 2004 remains the defining moment in South African swimming history. That’s when Roland Schoeman, Lyndon Ferns, Darian Townsend and Ryk Neethling shocked the world with their Olympic gold medal and world record-setting performance in the men’s 400 meter freestyle relay in Athens.

COACHING

010 PLAN B: WHEN BEST-LAID PLANS GO AWRY
by Michael J. Stott
Bolstering swimmers—in sickness and health—is part and parcel of a coach’s job. When done right, everybody wins.

038 SWIMMING TECHNIQUE CONCEPTS: DR. ANDERS ERICSSON’S CONCEPT OF DELIBERATE PRACTICE
by Rod Havriluk
Dr. Anders Ericsson left a vital legacy for athletes striving to become experts. His deliberate practice concept specifies the key components that help athletes progress to an expert level. The success of deliberate practice suggests that a coach prioritize deliberate practice strategies in team training and relegate conditioning to secondary importance.

040 SPECIAL SETS: MICHAEL PHELPS—FROM GOOD TO GREAT
by Michael J. Stott
The sets included in this article are taken from the 2001-02 short course and early long course season. They are a representative sample of Coach Bob Bowman’s early program in developing Michael Phelps as the greatest Olympic swimmer of all time.

043 Q&A WITH COACH DAN’L MURRAY
by Michael J. Stott

044 HOW THEY TRAIN EMANUEL FAVA
by Michael J. Stott

TRAINING

030 DRYSIDE TRAINING: NO SEASON, NO RACING…NOW WHAT?
by J.R. Rosania
This pandemic has shut down our competition calendar. Whether it’s a high school, college, professional or Olympic season, we need to perform exercises that will help us stay strong, fast and explosive.

JUNIOR SWIMMER

046 UP & COMERS: EMILY WAY
by Shoshanna Rutemiller

COLUMNS & SPECIAL SECTIONS

008 A VOICE FOR THE SPORT

015 HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE

023 DID YOU KNOW? MARY HOERGER

031 PREP SCHOOL DIRECTORY

042 HASTY HIGH POINTERS

047 GUTTERTALK

049 PARTING SHOT
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