Kobritz: Alaskan high school swimmer body shamed over swimsuit
BEYOND THE LINES
Instead of acting like “adults,” some grownups set a poor example for young people when it comes to exhibiting common sense and doing the right thing.
Breckynn Willis, a high school swimmer in Alaska had her 100-meter freestyle victory overturned after referee Jill Blackstone determined the 17-year-old committed a “uniform violation.” According to Blackstone, Willis’ swimsuit “was so far up I could see butt cheek touching butt cheek.” Under the National Federation of High Schools rules, girls must cover their buttocks during competition.
Breckynn, a member of the swim team at Dimond High School in Anchorage, had competed in three events without incident but after she won her fourth event, Blackstone assumed the role of fashion police. She immediately disqualified Breckynn and docked her team the winning points.
Not all adults were as insensitive and ignorant as the rogue referee. School district officials jumped to Breckynn’s defense, saying she was wearing an “approved, school-issued suit” during the meet. They accused the referee of making a decision based solely on how the standard uniform happened to fit the shape of the athlete’s body. “We cannot tolerate discrimination of any kind, and certainly not based on body shape,” the school district said in a statement.
A number of parents and opposing coaches also supported Breckynn, who is of mixed race and is fuller-figured than her white teammates. She and her two sisters are among the best swimmers in Anchorage, which has led to petty jealousy from parents of competing girls. “This young lady and her sisters are being targeted not for the way they wear their suits but for the way those suits fit their curvier, fuller- figured bodies,” wrote one high school coach. Others who weighed in on the controversy accused Blackstone of body shaming, racism, sexism, sexual harassment and child abuse.
Last year one parent went so far as to take graphic photos of Breckynn’s backside while wearing her swimsuit and circulated the images via email as evidence that her attire was “immoral” and a violation of the rules. That action incensed another parent who suggested the photographer should be charged with possession of child pornography.
According to the 2017-18 NFHS Athletic Participation Survey, swimming and diving is the eighth most popular sport for girls with 175,594 participants in 7,961 schools. To assume that all 175,594 girls have the same body type, and can wear the same suit, is ludicrous.
What’s clear is Blackstone was policing Breckynn’s body, not her uniform. Furthermore, if she believed there was a uniform violation, the rule required her to notify Breckynn’s coach prior to the meet, which she failed to do.
Upon appeal from the school district, the Alaska School Activities Association said the rule targeted athletes who “intentionally roll up their swimsuit,” not those who suffer from “suit wedgies,” a condition that occurs when suit bottoms ride up and a swimmer’s buttocks become exposed.
The adults in the controversy – the ASAA - did the right thing. They overturned Breckynn’s disqualification, restored her team’s lost points and moved to decertify Blackstone as a referee.
Jordan Kobritz is a non-practicing attorney and CPA, former Minor League Baseball team owner and current investor in MiLB teams. He is a professor in the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog, sportsbeyondthelines.com. The opinions contained in this column are the author’s. Kobritz can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.