A couple of weeks ago, members of the Women’s Cross Country team at Rowan University were running grueling 5:30 mile repeats on the track, when the coach of the football team approached their coach and told them that they needed to cover up.
You see, some of the women on the team were practicing in sports bras, and apparently, that was distracting to the football players.
This did not sit well with the runners at all. On the ensuing Friday, there was a closed-door meeting at the Athletics Department to discuss the matter. The cross-country runners stood silently outside, as a way to show support for their coach, speaking on their behalf.
The Athletics Department’s verdict just heaped further insult on the team.
Not only would the women not be allowed to practice solely in sports bras anymore, they were going to have to move their practices to the high-school track across the street so that their presence wouldn’t upset the delicate balance of football practice, which takes place on the football field inside the track.
By Monday, when everyone returned to campus, word had spread among the 15 women on the team. They were all outraged. Gina Capone, a junior who ran on the Cross Country team in 2017 and remains close with the current crop of runners, knew she had to do something.
“I wanted to speak on behalf of them, because a lot of them were afraid,” Capone told ThinkProgress. “And nobody should be afraid to speak out for what they believe in.”
So last Thursday, after securing the permission of her former teammates — including sophomore Brianna De la Cruz and senior Hannah Vendetta — Capone penned a fiery article on The Odyssey, a self-publishing platform targeted at college students.
Capone did not mince words.
If you’re running in a sports bra, then you must be asking for it, right? Well, according to a football player at Rowan University, this is true.
I’ll have you know the real reason women run in sports bras, and it’s not to show off our hard-earned abs. Women, whether they have a six-pack or not, run in sports bras because, quite frankly, it’s hot outside. We run in sports bras because our workouts are demanding, challenging, and vigorous.
Capone certainly hoped the article would draw attention to what she views as outright discrimination. But she never in her wildest dreams imagined quite how much attention.
It’s also been effective, at least partially. Within hours of publishing the piece, the University “clarified” its policies on sports bras, stating that while there was a “verbal policy” requiring all athletes to wear shirts, they planned to write a new “formal policy,” which would not restrict the wearing of sports bras without shirts during practices.
That was a big win for the women. Unfortunately, they still aren’t being permitted back on the track.
The past few days have been a whirlwind for Capone, but thankfully, she hasn’t had to weather it alone. After the article was published, both De la Cruz and Vendetta decided to speak out as well, to help Capone shoulder some of the burden.
After all, this is an issue that has been brewing for a while. This past September, as Vendetta, a senior who runs a 5:07 mile, was running hurdles as a warm up, her coach approached her and suggested that the put a shirt on over her sports bra, because field hockey players and football players were complaining about the distraction.
She refused, and thought that would be the last time she’d hear such an absurd request.
“I don’t get what is attractive about me doing mile repeats on a track and pushing my body to the point where I want to throw up,” Vendetta told ThinkProgress. “If the fact that I’m working so hard is distracting them, then those athletes aren’t working hard enough.”
De la Cruz had been hearing about the complaints all season, but it wasn’t until two weeks ago that she was directly told to put on a shirt. It was a nauseating experience.
“I felt very angry,” De la Cruz said. “In high school, for a while, I wouldn’t take my shirt off when running because I was self conscious. But I finally got to the point where it felt empowering — when you take your shirt off, it makes you feel so much faster. It’s exhilarating. It made me feel disgusting that they saw that as a sexual thing.”
Both of them have been extremely heartened by the response, particularly from the running community at large. Kara Goucher, a two-time Olympian long-distance runner, expressed her solidarity on twitter by saying that when she was in school, her mom had to write a permission slip so that she could run in her sports bra at practice.
“That was 1995,” Goucher tweeted. “I thought things had changed.”
No lie- I had to bring a note signed by my mom that said, “my daughter has permission to run around in her underwear” after a group of us ran in sports bras at practice. That was 1995, I thought things had changed.
— Kara Goucher (@karagoucher) November 9, 2018
Capone said she feels extremely validated that the sports bra policy has already been overturned, though she still can’t believe it was ever an issue in the first place.
“Guys go for shirtless runs all the time, and nobody says anything like that. I feel like it should be just as normalized for women to run in a sports bra,” Capone said.
The battle, however, is far from over. Rowan University is sticking to its decision to move the track team’s practice to the high school, citing another “verbal policy” that only one team can use a facility at a time. According to Vendetta, however, nobody can recall a time this policy has ever been enforced.
To add insult to injury, football practice could be moved to another spot on campus — a $4.6 million athletic practice facility across campus that has two fields for football, field hockey, soccer, and lacrosse athletes. Instead, the football players get to co-opt the playing field, which happens to be surrounded by the only track at Rowan University.
De la Cruz said that in her experience at Rowan, this is all par for the course. The women’s running programs are still treated poorly compared to other athletic programs at the school. They don’t have a locker room or practice uniforms; the athletics department doesn’t do any of their laundry; they don’t get a Senior Day; one of their courses was moved a half hour away; and the school doesn’t provide transportation back and forth to the far-off course. It’s been one thing after another. They’ve seen their coach fight for them time and time again, only to be ignored by the athletics department.
“We were always silent,” De la Cruz said. “But finally, when they took away this relatively little thing, we realized we have to stand up for ourselves.”
Capone, De la Cruz, and Vendetta have every intention to keep speaking out when they confront injustices. If the past few days have taught them anything, it’s that their voices matter, and that sometimes, people truly are willing to listen.
“It’s really shown me that if you believe in something, you should fight for it,” Capone said.