A high school swimmer in Alaska was denied victory at a swim meet Friday because of a “uniform violation,” triggering accusations of sexism and racism.
Breckynn Willis, a 17-year-old state champion swimmer for Dimond High School in Anchorage, emerged from the water after a dominating performance in the 100-meter freestyle. But the male referee immediately disqualified Willis, ruling that her swimsuit was exposing too much of her butt.
An official at the meet, Annette Rohde, told the Anchorage Daily News that a female referee said the bottom of the teenager’s suit “was so far up I could see butt cheek touching butt cheek.’’
Rohde recalled that after the meet she warned the referee, who has not been identified, “This is going to blow up.”
The referee did not respond to requests for comment by local press.
However, as Rohde predicted, the disqualification became a hot topic in Anchorage and the Alaskan swim and dive community. Then, on Saturday, a woman who coached Willis when she was younger blogged about the incident in a Medium post, and it became national news.
“In a world where young girls are told at every turn that the skin they’re in is not good enough for a thousand reasons, the last thing we need to do in youth athletics is add to that unhealthy dialogue,” wrote Lauren Langford, who coaches swimming at Anchorage’s West High School. “If you do not like the way that swimsuits fit on these girls’ bodies then don’t look; they are minors, children, and no one should be looking at them anyway.”
“All of these girls are all wearing suits that are cut the same way,” Langford later told the Washington Post, referring to the school-issued one-pieces. “And the only girl who gets disqualified is a mixed-race girl with rounder, curvier features.”
“We have a term for it — it’s called a suit wedgie,” she added, of the way the Willis was wearing the suit. “And wedgies happen. It’s uncomfortable. No one’s going to walk around that way intentionally.”
Breckynn Willis and her sisters had faced criticism for overexposure before
Langford’s outrage was echoed by feminists and other social-justice-oriented commentators on Twitter, many of whom cried “body shaming.”
“We treat women like garbage,” said Washington Post foreign affairs reporter Emily Rauhala in response to her colleague’s report.
We treat women like garbage https://t.co/ve2SuirZ1l
— Emily Rauhala (@emilyrauhala) September 10, 2019
Rep. Judy Chu, a California Democrat, declared: “Stop. Policing. Girls’. Bodies.”
Stop. Policing. Girls'. Bodies. https://t.co/4u78OuuQJp
— Judy Chu (@RepJudyChu) September 10, 2019
Transgender cyclist and activist Rachel McKinnon reacted with characteristic belligerence.
Fuck this bullshithttps://t.co/gA00dvwORA
— Dr. Rachel McKinnon (@rachelvmckinnon) September 10, 2019
As of Tuesday afternoon, the news did not seem to have infiltrated conservative Twitter, which tends to be less sympathetic to identity-based claims of injustice.
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, the governing body for high school athletics in Alaska, all female swimmers must cover their buttocks and breasts and all male swimmers cover their buttocks.
Rohde and a local swim coach told the Daily News on Monday that they had never seen Willis deliberately adjust her swimsuit to make it more revealing. Whether or not that matters is disputed.
However, the Post reported Tuesday that Willis has been criticized for alleged overexposure before. Last year, a parent took a photo of her from behind and shared it with other parents as proof that girls on the team were wearing inappropriate swimwear.
Meagan Kowatch, Willis’ mother, told KTUU on Monday that the referee who made the call had previously embarrassed one of her two other daughters by critiquing the fit of her suit during a meet. She called for Willis’ victory to be reinstated and for the referee to be barred from officiating her daughters’ future races.
Also Monday, Anchorage School District officials announced that they are reviewing the referee’s decision, saying the disqualification “appears to stem from a difference of opinion in the interpretation of the rules governing high school swim uniforms.”