Teen athlete says she faced retaliation for sports bra
A teenage runner in Texas is accusing her high school of gender discrimination after she was reprimanded for wearing a sports bra to a cross-country practice. The student, who has remained anonymous other than the initials G.H., says she was retaliated against after she brought up how she couldn’t wear a sports bra – even though male athletes practiced shirtless.
American Civil Liberties Union and its division in Texas sent a letter to the Spring Branch Independent School District (SBISD) on the student’s behalf, expressing concerns about her allegations against them.
In the letter, the ACLU says G.H. is the only Black member of the Spring Woods High School girls’ cross-country and track teams. In August 2021, the cross country coach told the girls they had to wear shirts to practice – even though they often ran in sports bras when it was extremely hot outside.
G.H. says she asked coaches and then the principal about the new policy, and both said girls could run in sports bras. But the following year, the coaches again said the girls needed to run in shirts.
This time, they also said boys needed to wear shirts, but G.H. claims she saw a boy athlete take his shirt off during practice. She then took off her shirt, wearing just her sports bra because it was hot out, and was “yelled at” by coaches, according to the ACLU’s letter.
“When G.H. pointed out that the same coaches were allowing a boy to practice shirtless without issue, they then asked that student to don a shirt,” the letter reads.
The ACLU says the shirt policy was discussed with athletic trainers, but it was never put into writing.
G.H. alleges she was retaliated against after these incidents. She says her coach would walk away from her while she was talking to him. “If G.H. asked him to repeat an instruction, he would give her contradictory information,” the letter reads.
She also claims she was denied an award for being the top runner on the cross-country team, which is important for college recruiting. “Being overlooked for this award despite excelling as an athlete and teammate was devastating for G.H. and further confirmed that her coaches were mistreating her after she spoke out about the dress code and gender disparities in the athletics program,” the letter reads.
She also alleges that after wearing her sports bra in 2022, she and a teammate were kicked out of practice. And she alleges that while she is a distance runner, she was moved to the sprinting team during the winter track season and she claims the distance coaches “deliberately ignored” her.
The sports bra incidents are not the only alleged gender disparities G.H. and her parents noticed, the ACLU says. They allege the boys’ team received more feedback and praise as well as more supervision during both practices and meets. “Thus, if a girl is injured or in bad shape after a practice or meet, no adult is in close proximity to provide her with medical assistance,” the letter reads.
Her family filed a Title IX complaint, prompting the district to investigate, but the ACLU claimed the district “merely accepted the statements of its own employees at face value,” and failed to address the family’s concerns.
In its letter, the ACLU warned the district that they are potentially violating the Fourteenth Amendment, which grants all citizens equal protection, and Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities.
The ACLU says that school officials said no to sports bras because it is “inappropriate to show skin” and district employees did not want any “boobs, butts, or bellies out”. The organization says “this justification rests on the same harmful and archaic gender stereotypes that the Supreme Court has rejected time and again as per se unlawful.”
The ACLU requested a meeting with the school district to discuss the concerns.
In a statement to CBS News, a spokesperson for SBISD said the district “denies any discrimination and treats students equally and fairly.”
“We are aware of the situation with one student at one of our high schools who is dissatisfied with SBISD practices, which are applied to all athletes at that campus. SBISD is currently investigating this matter,” the statement reads.
G.H., who is currently a junior, said she never thought it would come to this point.
“I had faith that the people meant to protect us would do so and do right by us. Me stepping forward for my teammates may never benefit me, but it will benefit the next young woman of color that looks like me,” she said in a statement, according to the ACLU.
The ACLU and its New York division also raised this issue with a school district in the state’s capital last year. Thirteen athletes on a high school track team, most of whom are Black and Latina, alleged they were discriminated against after wearing sports bras. The ACLU says the girls were suspended from the team after violating a “discriminatory dress code.”
The ACLU accused the City District of Albany of violating the Fourteenth Amendment, Title IX, as well as state anti-discrimination laws. One month later, Albany High School changed its dress code to allow student-athletes to wear sports bras during practice, the Albany Times-Union reported.