The Butt Cheek Of It: Why Modesty Police With Power To Punish Have No Place In The Pool

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The pioneers and achievers who helped popularise swimming for women - and saved lives and promoted health in the process - Photo Courtesy: ISHOF

The Butt Cheek Of It & How A DQ for ‘showing butt cheek’ got overturned

Commentary

“I told her, ‘I need to know how you’re defining this, because this is going to blow up,’” Annette Rohde said after she “froze in disbelief” when she saw the disqualification decision by the meet referee, who has not been officially identified.

She said the official replied that the bottom of the girl’s suit “was so far up I could see butt cheek touching butt cheek.’’

The story of how 17-year-old swimmer at Anchorage’s Dimond High School in Alaska was disqualified after winning a 100m freestyle event last week can be read at Deadspin and beyond.

Rohde was right: blow up it has. And so it should.

Can you imagine: “Ryan Lochte, you’ve been a naughty boy but this day you’ve surpassed yourself: how dare you carry yourself that way in a banana hammock. Hand back the gold and hang your head. Let this be a lesson to you to show more humility and modesty in future.”

Not going to happen. Nor should it.

Aussie fly ace Maddie Groves noted on social media that  tight modern suits are a pain in the privates for many women but there’s a job to be done. She added:

“This poor girl was just trying to get the job done, nobody should be looking at her butt, let alone policing it. Totally unfair decision.”

Quite.

Witnesses told the Washington Post that the swimmer was accused of hiking her swimsuit up on purpose, a suggestion that had “crushed” the 17-year-old.

The swimmer’s mother wanted the decision overturned – and so it was.

After Anchorage School District concluded their review of the disqualification, it agreed that the junior swimmer was targeted unfairly and sent an appeal to the Alaska School Activities Association. ASD said in a statement:

“Following our review of the September 6 disqualification of a Dimond High School swimmer, to include interviews of multiple witnesses, the Anchorage School District has concluded that our swimmer was targeted based solely on how a standard, school-issued uniform happened to fit the shape of her body. We cannot tolerate discrimination of any kind, and certainly not based on body shape. This disqualification was heavy-handed and unnecessary.”

The authority has not decided on whether to decertify the referee or whether to suspend the suit coverage rule.

At swim meets the world over, this season and decades of them before that, athletes young to masters will be showing human flesh and shape in one form or another.

Annette Kellerman and the Pioneers

The history of it all is long – and for women the fight for the right to wear a suit that put modesty before life and death was won by Annette Kellerman and others more than 100 years ago.

The likes of Ethelda Bleibtrey was among swimmers who took a stance so that women would not face discrimination in a bather.

Annette Kellerman (read this fine piece by Chuck Warner) did more to popularise swimming among women – saving lives along the way – than any other person a century ago. A childhood cripple, she swam her way out of steel braces and into good health. She said:

“Only a cripple can understand the intense joy that I experienced when little by little I found that my legs were growing stronger and taking on the normal shape and powers with which the legs of other youngsters were endowed.”

The normal shape and powers: that comes in all shapes and sizes and suits ride up and it happens all the time. Better that than death.

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Photo Courtesy:

Kellerman stepped out onto Revere Beach in 1907 wearing a one-piece bathing suit that ended in shorts above her knees, her legs caused a scandal. Police were called, and she was arrested for indecency. She designed the Kellerman suit not just so as to be able to swim instead of float but because she had understood that women needed to learn to swim, needed to be safe in water, needed to have the same opportunities and rights as men.

Bottom line: her one-piece suit save lives.

In 2019, the referee who “crushed” the spirit and confidence of a 17-year-old should apologise in public, should be suspended and re-trained during ‘time out’: not because she interpreted a rule but because they way she did so was loaded in discrimination and a damaging lack of understanding of how his actions wounded a young swimmer in a way that could follow her in the pool and into adult life.

Beyond that, if there is any lingering doubt that the official adhered correctly to the law, then the law is an ass and the rule should be changed.

Should any swimmer in question turn up on the blocks with private parts hanging out, it would be reasonable to have a word with that athlete and even ask them to leave the deck. Shy of that, if modesty issues arise, they are matters that can be discussed in private by coach, parent and swimmer.

Meanwhile, modesty police with the power to punish have no place in the pool nor in the minds of young swimmers.

29 comments

  1. Rachel Moore

    Robyn Gillespie more on the topic…

  2. Dani Navarrete

    Mariana Navarrete lee esto plis y la nota de Washington Post 😤

  3. Rick Stanfield

    Would be nice if this reporter had bothered checking that the official was a female.

    • avatar
      Craig Lord

      Would be nice, Rick S if you bothered to read properly… first three words ‘“I told her, …” meaning , ‘I told the official,’ … so yes, the story does indeed have the official as a female, though that is irrelevant, as is the timing of the commentary (it is not a news article).

  4. Julie Austin

    What about the creepy parent who took photos and shared them with other people?

  5. avatar
    Anonymous

    As both a swim coach and a high school swim official, we have been taught that any suit that does not conform to the rules should be changed prior to competition, not after the competition has concluded.

  6. avatar
    Paul Windrath

    Swimming World – you are completely wrong on your position. Women pulling their suits up their butt crack is a bit different than males trying to manage their bulge. I applaud the official who made this call – it is about time. At a time when everyone is crying about sexual harassment, women need to understand their behavior has an impact – whether or not they like it.

    Left as is – women can start wearing thongs. Men can too I guess. When does exposure go too far? I guess it will take genitals being visible to prove the point. Do we really want to go there?

    It is all about appropriate attire – come on folks. The adults in the room should be parenting instead of letting the kids rule the pool. If we, the adults, don’t take charge, we have failed our obligations to raise our kids properly.

    • avatar
      Michele

      This was a 17 year old GIRL in a school-issued swimsuit. There were authorities in charge here. Should she have stopped before the race and asked for pantaloons for humilities sake??!!

      • avatar
        Honor C

        No, the NFHS has established the policy as to what coverage is required for HS swimmers. There are a lot of factors in this situation that cannot be easily and quickly addressed, but we have officials who have been tasked with upholding the rules that the NFHS has set.

    • avatar
      Susan Collins

      How many boys are DQd because their briefs are so low their buttcracks and cheeks are hanging out? There is a double standard at play. Stop sexualizing girls’ bodies.

      • avatar
        Honor C

        The boys should also be DQ’d according to the NFHS policy. It’s not an unfair policy, it just needs to be enforced.

    • avatar
      Craig Lord

      Parenting, coaching, yes… NOT officiating in inappropriate ways

    • avatar
      KKeroher

      Numerous people were interviewed, and the swimmer was found to *not* have pulled her suit up on purpose. The official targeted both her and her younger sister in multiple occasions, as far back as last year, hence the decision to decertify the official.
      Do people actually ever give themselves wedgies? For real? Have you ever? Use some common sense, man.

      • avatar
        Honor C

        I’ve watched it be done on deck.

      • avatar
        Anonymous

        Ummm, absolutely! Have you heard of Jolyn???? They disappear right up there and it’s ridiculous. If girls & women don’t want to be sexual used then their suits shouldn’t be a thong.

      • avatar
        Craig Lord

        ‘If girls & women don’t want to be sexual’… There is no suggestion that the swimmer in question, nor others similarly affected by similar local decisions according to the reports that brought us this news in the first place, wanted “to be sexual”. So, that’s something you are assuming. Beyond that, your thought does not stretch to the possibility of blokes advertising bananas in their hammocks nor that that might also be seen as them wanting “to be sexual”. That lack of balance in your thought leads us to consider whether you’re being discriminatory. You may well say that you’re not. I say that the vast majority of swimmers, boys to men, girls to women are not seeking to be overtly sexual when putting on a suit and getting ready to cover 6k in training or stepping up on race day. I’d also say that the vast majority of us who have spent a lifetime around swimmers and water are not surveying the scene with an eye on who “wants to be sexual”. Bottom line here: when dealing with a tiny minority of cases where doubt about intent may creep in, nearly all such cases can be handled by discussion between parents, swimmer and coach/club. The need for official intervention is extremely rare – and this case does not appear to stack up as warranting such intervention. More concerning to me is any apparent need for any reader to want to focus on ‘girls and women’ and then do so behind a veil of anonymity.

    • avatar
      Anonymous

      Cue the hysteria…

    • avatar
      Amy B

      So you are willing to accomplish your position by taking down one child (yes, 17 is a child)? I don’t share your position, nor do I share your cruelty.

      There are better, kinder ways to accomplish your goal.

  7. avatar
    Anonymous

    Is it ok to swim naked then?

    • avatar
      kkeroher

      Yes. That is exactly what all of this is about. Everyone actually wants high school swimming to be a completely naked sport. 🙄🙄🙄
      Idiot.

    • avatar
      Craig Lord

      Thanks Stephanie.

  8. Maria Grannell

    The female official should be decertified. She is not impartial. The parent who took photos should be facing criminal charges.

  9. avatar
    Joseph

    Wow, the rhetoric around this. “Decertify the official!” “Arrest the parent”. “This child will be scarred for life.” The child will not be scarred. The parent did something odd, but felt he/she needed to do so to uphold norms of her/his community. The official overreacted.

    I am a USA swimming official and am male. I swim, and I have 2 daughters who swim competitively. I have had conversations with many colleagues regarding this issue over the past year. Ironically I have found that some of the older women are more concerned about this issue than I am – and I would say that my wife is more conservative on this issue than I am.

    We don’t have a clear rule and it is left up to the discretion of the official – that is the problem, but that is also a reality in other areas in life (judges have discretion to interpret laws). It is true that (often) swimmers hike up their suits (especially breaststrokers) because the cut of their suit doesn’t work with their body.

    Relax everyone. We have to have this discussion about societal norms and how they are changing. I (a male) used to wear shorts in southern Italy in the summer when I visited my grandmother and she was SCANDALIZED by this. Her interpretation was that it was culturally inappropriate. I felt that it was too hot to wear long pants. It was even worse for my sister.

    Personally, I think we need to relax about the suits. These kids are not trying to “look sexy” when they are on the pool deck. They are trying to win. Swimmers have to be very comfortable with their bodies as they are walking around a pool deck for hours in their suits. ALL suits render the swimmer effectively naked – and men’s suits do so even more than women’s suits. These swimmers (both men and women) are around each other in practice EVERY DAY and we don’t have the eyes to police them during practice.

    We are applying the norms of the adults in a widely varying cultural landscape (the whole of the USA) to the norms of young swimmers. Like my grandma misunderstanding why we wore shorts as kids, as adults we must be careful to understand why the kids are doing what they are doing.

    So, let’s have this conversation. Understand that the official was most likely thinking that he/she was doing the right thing. (FYI, I’ve seen this concern toward Caucasian girls as well as African American girls, so we cannot yet make a blanket statement about racial insensitivity). Let’s agree on a norm and let’s agree on a sanction if that norm is violated.

    Let us worry about the bigger issues – i.e. when adults prey on youth in any sport – and then calmly have a conversation about cultural norms.

    • avatar
      Craig Lord

      Agreed, Joseph. We do indeed concern ourselves with the bigger issues; and also react when officialdom overeacts and makes a big issue of something that can and is often handled calmly by parents and coaches, the world over.

  10. Nicole Ryan

    Santiago Morales

  11. Martin Gibson

    The coach was saying she was wearing the team suit and their all designed the same. Logical followup question…Dodd she wear an inappropriate size ie a suit made for a 10yr old