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SWIMMER Editorials

  1. Shaken, Stirred, and Sorry (March-April 2011)

    by , March 1st, 2011 at 01:00 AM (SWIMMER Editorials)
    As many of you are aware, in the January–February issue we published a letter written by member Glenn Welsford that spoke of his religious intolerance of the LGBT community. Mr. Welsford penned the letter in response to the article we published in the September-October issue of SWIMMER profiling Tyler Duckworth, a gay swimmer and reality TV star. In the same issue, we presented a book review of Jeff Commings’s autobiography, "Odd Man Out," which chronicles his life as a gay, black swimmer. I also wrote about diversity in my editorial for that issue.

    During our editorial review prior to publication, we felt that Mr. Welsford, while entitled to his beliefs, is clinging to an antiquated viewpoint in a society truly coming of age—one in which all its members are afforded equal respect—something that USMS, a subculture within this society, does very well.

    Our intent in printing the letter was not to give any individual a platform to “spew hatred,” but to allow a member’s opinion to be discussed and defused. Many of us don’t feel that Mr. Welsford’s viewpoint can survive in our rapidly integrating society. In reading his words, I felt they were intolerant, but I didn’t see them as a hateful personal attack.

    A dispassionate lens may not always be the best way to view things, especially when serving a large, diverse, passionate group of people. As the editor, it was my responsibility to be sensitive to how some readers may react. And in that, I failed; and offer my sincere apologies.

    Regardless of our intentions, the right thing to do was apologize to those who were hurt or angered by the publication of the letter. We did so in timely responses to all readers who wrote in, and by publishing a formal apology on the home page at usms.org.

    We received letters from readers, both gay and straight, who strongly disagreed with the printing of the letter—they did read hatred in Welsford’s words, not just intolerance. We also received letters from readers, both gay and straight, thanking us for printing the letter, for various reasons. They appreciated our willingness to print a controversial response to what some consider a difficult topic—one that we introduced with the original articles.

    This has been a learning experience for us here at SWIMMER. We remain committed to providing you with a quality publication that covers the wide range of interests of our members, including competition, open water, fitness, training and technique, health and nutrition, history, product reviews and profiles of our diverse members—the fascinating people who make up U.S. Masters Swimming.

    We are unable to print all the letters we received, and we didn’t want this incident to prevent us from publishing letters on other topics, so we have extended the Letters department for this issue (“Letters” starts on page 3 and is continued on page 44) and we have published an extended version online.

    Updated July 1st, 2014 at 11:53 AM by Editor

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  2. The Inclusive Sport—It's All Good! (September-October 2010)

    by , September 1st, 2010 at 01:00 AM (SWIMMER Editorials)
    We’ve all heard and experienced how wonderful swimming is. I don’t need to belabor that point. So many of you write to tell us how swimming has changed your lives. The lifesaving form of exercise that has allowed you to walk again, date again, go off your medications, etc. The physical benefits of our sport are pretty much universally accepted—and we love that.

    But what is it about the less tangible benefits of being around people who seem different from people in other sports? Why do swimmers seem to be a little more easygoing when it comes to acceptance and inclusiveness? Is it because as kids, swimmers train together—boys and girls? Until boys get to the 13-14 age group, they are often accustomed to being beaten by girls, who develop earlier. Does this make them more accepting and more respectful of women later in life?

    Are swimmers more tolerant of differences because of the unique differences within the sport? For pool swimming, there are four different strokes, contested at nine different lengths in three different courses, which add up to 53 different pool events. The muscular freestyle sprinter who just can’t master the breaststroke learns to respect the 98-pound natural breaststroker in the next lane over who sails past with ease, regardless of size or gender. And the differences in open water swimming are another whole world to explore: lakes, rivers, the deep blue sea; short and long distances. The physiological differences among people often guide them to the different strokes and events, and there is something for everyone.

    Maybe swimmers are more tolerant because of the “alone time in a group” phenomenon of a swim practice; each swimmer in his or her own water world, each with different goals and specialties, yet all working together as a group, sharing the water.

    In this issue, we meet USMS member Tyler Duckworth, lifelong swimmer, reality TV star, and gay man who has found that, with few exceptions, the swimming community doesn’t really care about his sexual orientation. In Jim Harper’s profile, we also learn that Duckworth has found more people outside the swimming community who have had trouble reconciling his sexuality with his athletic success.

    We also review another member’s newly published autobiography chronicling life as a gay, black swimmer. Jeff Commings, too, found that he was somewhat shielded from discrimination in the swimming world. Both of these men are accomplished swimmers who have been judged on their merits as athletes. Their differences, and the differences and inclusive nature of our members, are part of what make U.S. Masters Swimming such a great organization.

    Updated July 1st, 2014 at 11:54 AM by Editor

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  3. The Swimming Race (January-February 2010)

    by , January 1st, 2010 at 01:00 AM (SWIMMER Editorials)
    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks drowning as the second leading cause of accidental death among children. According to the USA Swimming Foundation, approximately six out of 10 African-American and Hispanic/Latino children cannot swim. Children in these groups are about twice as likely to drown as Caucasian children. The rate of youth drowning deaths in ethnically diverse communities is two to three times higher than the national average.

    These grim statistics have fueled swim programs nationwide – programs with the goal of making sure all kids are water-safe. An article in this issue’s Healthy Swimmer brings us up to date on USA Swimming Foundation’s Make a Splash program, which is providing seed money for learn-to-swim programs in underserved areas of the country. Program spokesperson, Olympian Cullen Jones, completed a six-city tour this past summer to promote awareness and kick-start programs.

    Programs and progress are encouraging, but a failure to examine the root causes of problems often creates more problems. The dearth of swimming skills among modern African-Americans has perpetuated a belief that blacks were always poor swimmers, despite evidence to the contrary. Kevin Dawson, assistant professor of history at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, contributes some of his research findings in Splashback. Professor Dawson shares accounts of skilled black swimmers dating back to the late 1600s. From the Middle Ages onward, most Europeans did not swim at all. As these Europeans came in contact with Africans, they were amazed at their swimming abilities. So what happened? How did we get to today?

    Some believe that slaves born in the U.S. were not taught to swim because they would use it as a means of escape. This may have been true in isolated cases, but Dawson says what happened during Reconstruction and on through the civil rights movement has had a bigger impact. “Bodies of water that were previously used for recreation by blacks were often repositories for victims of racial violence,” Dawson says. Water became closely associated with terror and violence.

    When people are afraid of water, their children seldom learn to swim. Ergo, many generations of African-Americans did not learn to swim. In 1969, a now widely discredited study titled “The Negro and Learning to Swim: The Buoyancy Problem Related to Reported Biological Difference,” claimed that, due to heavier bones and muscle mass, blacks were not buoyant enough to swim well. Throw segregation into the mix, with little or no access to public pools and beaches, and the lack of pools in ethnically diverse communities, and the cycle continued.

    How does this relate to Masters swimming? USMS is proud to support the USA Swimming Foundation and its efforts to eliminate childhood drowning due to unequal opportunity. The Foundation has a presence in SWIMMER, and many USMS members donate directly. USMS is a supporter of the Foundation’s annual banquet, Golden Goggles. All of us in the swimming community can work together to make sure opportunities to enjoy and be safe in water are available to everyone, regardless of race.

    Updated July 1st, 2014 at 11:55 AM by Editor

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