Alaska Swimsuit Scandal: Critics Say Teen Was Disqualified Because of Her Race & Gender
The Alaska School Activities Association has reversed a teen swimmers's disqualification for breaking a modesty rule. The teen's school district had previously concluded that she "was targeted based solely on how a standard, school-issued uniform happened to fit the shape of her body."
The latest curious, dress code-related story to make national headlines involves a teen swimmer from Alaska who was disqualified from a September 6 meet for reportedly showing too much of her buttocks in a school-issued swimsuit (aka she had a wedgie). On Tuesday, September 10, the Alaska School Activities Association (ASAA) reversed 17-year-old Breckynn Willis' disqualification, writing in a statement, "ASAA has determined, the disqualification was the result of the misapplication of the rule and as a result is being overturned."
Last week, the Dimond High School swimmer, who had participated in four races, was disqualified from one for a "uniform violation." The violation reportedly went against a National Federation of State High School Associations "modesty rule" that requires male athletes to cover their genitals and buttocks and female athletes to cover their genitals, buttocks, and breasts. The referee told the Anchorage Daily News the female official who made the call said the teen's suit "so far up I could see butt cheek touching butt cheek."
The situation prompted a swim coach named Lauren Langford, who coaches swimming at a neighboring high school and used to coach Willis and her sisters when they were younger, to write an essay on Medium, which has been widely shared over the past several days.
Langford wrote that the ref's call stemmed from racism and sexism: "These young swimmers aren’t being punished for wearing their suits in scandalous or provocative ways, but rather, because their ample hips, full chests, and dark complexions look different than their willowy, thin, and mostly pallid teammates. Some will argue this scandal has nothing to do with race. But the issue becomes glaring when officials are overheard acknowledging that white athletes are baring too much skin as well, yet they’ve never been disqualified for a similar violation."
Langford also noted that the same teen swimmer had been "the subject of one rogue team parent’s photography project last season, in which they took graphic photos of her backside in her swimsuit—without her knowledge or consent—and circulated the images via email as evidence that her attire is immoral. She is a minor—that parent should be arrested for possession and distribution of child pornography."
The coach later spoke about the incident to the Anchorage Daily News, concluding, "It was so targeted. It was so intentional, and so individual. She’s one of three girls on the Dimond team who look like her. Everybody else is in same suit, sized to fit, and yet on a team of however many girls she was the only one that got singled out?
Thankfully, the Anchorage School District sided with the teen, as well, releasing a statement on Tuesday, September 10 that concluded Willis "was targeted based solely on how a standard, school-issued uniform happened to fit the shape of her body." The statement continued, "We cannot tolerate discrimination of any kind, and certainly not based on body shape. This disqualification was heavy-handed and unnecessary."
The school district made clear their plans to "reverse the swimmer disqualification; return all points to the team; decertify the official; suspend, with the intent to revise, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) suit coverage rule, as it is ambiguous and allows the potential for bias to influence officials’ decisions."
So far, they've managed to achieve the first step. But there's still much work to be done. Willis' mother Meagan Kowatch hit the nail on the head when she told local news affiliate KTUU that she hopes her daughters gain attention for their performance and skill, not the fit of their swimsuits.