My freshman year I joined the Track and Field team. Though for some skillful Lancers, like Miles Zoltak and Sami Johnson, track season is a time of glory and achievement, this was not the case for me. I was horribly untalented at my event of choice — hurdles — and I lacked the motivation and mindset necessary to be a successful athlete.
After a while, I started to hate being on the track team. I fantasized about joining other sports my sophomore year, and dreamed of reaching junior year where I would not have to take a sport at all. It was around this time cross country started to practice with the track team.
As a freshman, my view of the Cross Country team was largely influenced by the classic “grass is greener on the other side” phenomenon. I heard from people how “nice” and “supportive” the cross country coaches were and how much their team felt like a family. Then there was the fact that in Cross Country events there were no miniature walls you had to jump over. There were many practices where I wished that I was on the Cross Country team instead of track, and even thought about transferring to the sport.
Then all of the sudden track season was over, and my idolized image of Cross Country faded. Two years went by and I rarely thought about either of these sports, until one day towards the end of my Junior year. I decided, to the horror of my freshman self, that it might be fun to join a sport again for my Senior year. It was at this time that all of the good things I had heard about Cross Country started coming back to me, and I decided to sign up.
Shortly after joining the team it became clear to me that most of what I had heard about XC was true. The coaches were in fact nice and supportive, and there was a strong emphasis on building a sense of community amongst teammates. Though I can say that on the whole being on the team was a positive experience, there was one part of the program that none of the rumors I had heard prepared me for. One simple rule that made me question all of the other great things the team has to offer.
During my first few weeks on the team I immediately noticed that many of the boys ran with their shirts off but none of the girls ran in sports bras. I found this curious and asked some of the other girls on the team about what the coaches’ rules were on running in sports bras. The response I most frequently got was that the coaches’ personal beliefs about modesty accounted for the rule.
To clarify, I first asked around to see if other sports, particularly track, allowed girls to run in sports bras. I was told by individuals in track that they were in fact allowed to run in sports bras and that it was only girls in distance who were not.
Finally, I decided to speak to the coaches to make sure that I understood the actual rule. I was told that “girls were not as sexual as guys” and that they didn’t want the boys on the team or others in the area seeing us running in sports bras. After I expressed my concern about how the rule made assumptions about people’s genders and sexualities, they brought up the topic of safety.
I was informed by the coach, that she was concerned about ‘creepy old men’ following me or the other girls on the team during or after our runs. Though I do believe this is a concern, I do not believe that this is the primary motivation for the rule. The main way we protect ourselves from the dangerous situation she is referring to, is by running in groups. However, there have been multiple occasions where I have observed the coaches encouraging girls who have more time to run than the other members in their group (because of their longer experience on the team) to continue on by themselves. This relaxed approach to a much more fundamental safety precaution made me question whether this concern was the actual reason behind the sports bra rule.
A week later we were running on the track on a particularly hot day. At the end of practice I brought up the issue again, and asked if we were allowed to run in our sports bras on the track (because theoretically ‘creepy old men’ shouldn’t be able to follow us when we are surrounded by adults on school property). When I made that specific point I was told that though there might not be ‘creepy old men’ there were definitely “teenage boys with testosterone” who would be looking at me. The coach told me that she was just “old fashioned” and didn’t want the girls to be exposed in that way.
I was frustrated with this answer for a number of reasons. First of all, it does not make sense to assume that the guys would be more distracted by the girls than the girls would be by the guys. Then there is the fact the rule assumes that all of the guys on the team are straight (if it is the boys’ testosterone that makes them so distracted by their attraction to other members on the team, wouldn’t the boys who were attracted to boys and not girls be distracted by the male members of the team who run without their shirts off?).
Beyond my personal frustrations with the issue I believe this rule is having a much broader, adverse effect. Enforcing this rule conveys to the girls on the team that their bodies are inherently more shameful than the bodies of the boys on the team. It is reinforcing the idea that girls should give up their rights to equal treatment to account for the immature response specific boys have to womens’ bodies. Finally it is teaching the boys on the team that they do not need to learn to constrain themselves when they have unreciprocated attractions. It is simply not right that the coaches’ personal beliefs about modesty are being enforced in a school program, especially when in consequence, they limit the rights of a whole group of students on the team.
I’m not suggesting that there should be no regulation on what students can wear during practice for their sport. All I’m saying is that rules should be equally enforced for students of all genders, and be consistent amongst the different sports.