Thirteen members of the Albany (N.Y.) High School girls’ track team were suspended following a dispute over sports bras.
The debate began after members of the team wore sports bras during practice two weeks ago due to the warm weather, according to the Albany Times Union. The athletes found the choice of attire appropriate, particularly given that their male counterparts could practice shirtless.
Albany High athletic director Ashley Chapple told the athletes that the sports bras were inappropriate and distracting to their male coaches, multiple members of the team told the Washington Post. When pressed, Chapple told the athletes that sports bras qualified as “underwear” and went against the school’s dress code.
The boys’ team also was asked to put on shirts for practice.
The girls, who considered the sports bras to be athletic wear, found that the code of student conduct does prohibit “extremely brief garments,” it does not explicitly prohibit athletes from wearing sports bras as tops.
The next day, May 12, athletes decided to dress in sports bras and shirts again. Chapple asked them to leave practice, and the athletes complied.
When team members showed up to support the boys’ lacrosse team at a game later that afternoon, some still in sports bras, Chapple told them they could not attend the game. Then a day later, 13 members of the team were suspended for Friday’s Shenendehowa Invitational, a key qualifying event for some of the team’s top runners.
In the suspension letter, which was shared with the Washington Post, Chapple said the girls were being suspended for using “inappropriate and disrespectful language,” but members of the team dispute that.
“We were loud, but we did not swear,” senior Alexis Arango told the Times Union. “No one was cursing. We were loud because we were outside.”
The athletes started a petition on Change.org that had more than 43,000 signatures as of Thursday afternoon to “protest the gender-biased dress code.”
“The athletic administration staff is attempting to exclude us from our sport as a result of the misinterpretation of the dress code,” the petition reads. “We’re being punished for practicing in sports bras in the presence of male coaches, while the boys team was asked nicely to put shirts back on and was not punished.”
In a statement, Albany City School Superintendent Kaweeda G. Adams reasserted that the suspension was not related to the sports bras.
“Members of the Albany High School girls’ track and field team served a suspension Friday due to inappropriate and disrespectful behavior directed toward an administrator,” Adams said in the statement. “Their suspension was in no way related to wardrobe. It was entirely related to their inappropriate conduct, and in alignment with our Student Code of Conduct.”
Most of the runners’ suspensions were shortened from three days to one day, and all but one had been reinstated by May 18. Still, the incident and the school’s response has left the athletes and their parents frustrated.
“The bottom line is this was sexist,” Arango told the Washington Post.