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An Odyssey article written by Rowan cross country runner Gina Capone went viral this week. In it, Capone states, “Women running around the track in sports bras at their own practice were claimed to be distracting to the football players on the field during the same time.” Capone then goes on to insinuate that Rowan is supporting rape culture in its decision to have the cross country teams practice on the Glassboro High School track.

According to a Facebook post from the university account, Rowan had a longstanding policy where only one team is allowed to practice in the football stadium at a time. Typically, the cross country teams practice after the football team, but in recent years the teams have used the track at Glassboro High School to avoid having to wait until the football team is finished. On Oct. 30, the day of the incident, the Glassboro High School field happened to be locked, so the cross country team held practice alongside the football team in Richard Wackar Stadium.

The New York Times reported that a football coach spoke with cross country coach Derick Adamson about his concerns regarding two teams practicing on the field at the same time. In a private meeting with the Rowan athletic department, Adamson was informed that the cross country teams would have to hold their practices at the high school.

Rowan did, in fact, have a verbal policy wherein student athletes were not allowed to practice shirtless. It is unclear how strictly enforced this was, and whether or not there were discrepancies in upholding this between male athletes and female athletes. Additionally, the first public mention that sports bras played any role in the decision was in Capone’s article, which posits that this verbal policy was discussed in the meeting between Adamson and Rowan’s athletic director. The only official statement given concerning the relaying of the sports bra policy came via email from President Houshmand who said, “What led to the article and brought light to the verbal policy was a recent explanation of it to new staff, who then relayed the information to students. Having practiced all season in ‘sports bra’ tops, many interpreted this as a new policy.” The email also noted that the verbal policy would be changed and a new written policy will allow female athletes to practice in sports bras.

While much remains unclear, it seems the timeline progressed something like this:

  1. The cross country team used the track at the same time the football team was practicing, violating a university policy forbidding two teams from using it at once.
  2. A football coach approached cross country coach Derick Adamson about this matter, and it is unclear what was discussed.
  3. Adamson met with Rowan’s athletic director and was told his team would now practice at the high school, according to the New York Times (and that the sports bra issue was brought up in this meeting, according to Capone’s article).

Capone and the cross country athletes seem to have interpreted the sports bra issue as a new policy that came about after they ran in front of the football team, but it was actually a longstanding verbal policy within the athletic department regarding athletes wearing shirts during practice that didn’t seem to be heavily enforced, since Capone refers to the decision as “the women on the team no longer being able to run in sports bras.” It is unclear if any football players or the football coach made mention of the sports bra as an issue, although coaches did air grievances about the violation of the one team in the stadium policy.

The only quote given so far on the football end came via Capone’s article: “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.”

If a Rowan football player did say this at some point, it’s a disgusting remark. However, this unnamed source shouldn’t be taken as the voice of all of Rowan football and used to imply that the football team was distracted namely because of the sports bra.

Further, much of the media coverage surrounding this event paints this issue as an example of sexism on the university’s end, with Capone going so far as to imply that the university is empowering rape culture.

More likely, the university had an antiquated, questionable policy regarding wearing shirts during practice that may have been applied with different levels of stringency depending on who was enforcing it.

This isn’t to say that Capone and the cross country athletes are in the wrong. Rather, there are a lot of unanswered questions, namely who was told what about wearing a sports bra. And, all things considered, this attention did bring about a positive outcome with a newly written policy allowing female athletes to practice in sports bras, matching with NCAA standards.

In cases like this, however, the truth is often more nuanced and boring than something like the university enforcing patriarchal, oppressive policies and propagating rape culture. An unclear verbal policy concerning wearing shirts may have been mentioned at some point, and it also appears that the one team in the stadium policy also played a role. The football team’s side of the story is still unaccounted for. Also making up a small part in the overall  discussion thus far has been the lack of a uniform for the women’s cross country team and the potential of preferential treatment for the football team over other teams.

Luckily, this intense saga has a happy ending now that Rowan’s female athletes can now practice in sports bras.

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