Naughty Pictures on the Internet

By Jane
I’ve known some swimmers to do some terrible things. Eleven years of competitve swimming is long enough to witness a large amount of bad behaviour, and I’ve been a part of some swimming-related adventures that might not make a team’s administration proud. We’ve gone, underage, into Australian nightclubs, snuck out of training camp hotel rooms and engaged in general debauchery, in pubilc. My club team was suspended from swimming once, and we should have been a couple of other times. However, I cannot imagine why a university would suspend its swim team for the reasons sited at Washington State University this week.

The Cougar swim team were poised for their most successful season in years. In 2002, the Cougs lost their coach, Rocco Aceto, as well as a number of their most talented swimmers. The skeletal roster that remained committed themselves to rising from their proverbial ashes, and the 2002-2003 season saw WSU take on a new coach, Erica Quam. Each year, WSU’s results improved, until the 2005-2006 season when the team began breaking school records en masse, beating conference rivals and sending swimmers to the NCAA championships. Then-junior Erin McCleave earned All American honours in the 1650 yard freestyle. The team had come a long way from their 2002 lows, where their rivals doubled scores against them and fellow students asked, “We have a swim team?”

Last weekend, the Cougars did what they haven’t done since 2001. At home in Pullman, Washington, the team beat their in-state rival, the Washington Huskies by an impressive 153-108. Rather akin to the Democrats’ experience in the United States’ recent elections, the Cougs gave the Huskies a good old thumping. So, the girls decided to celebrate.

You’re thinking what I originally thought when I heard this story. The girls drank too much and got into a fight. The underage girls were caught red-handed with alcohol. They got into trouble with the cops. As was I, you’re wrong. A number of the team, but not all of them, had a “lingerie party” at a team member’s apartment and took photographs of themselves in said lingerie. You know: underwear. It looks kind of like a swim suit. It shows onlookers about as much as a traditional pair of Speedos. Last year, the Cougs appeared on their team’s promotional poster under-water, closely packed together in the Washington State University diving well. Later in the year, some team members took part in a sports department talent quest, again wearing their swim suits.

The girls’ mistake was posting their photographs on the popular networking website, Facebook. College sports administrators have Facebook accounts, and have threatened to monitor athletes’ online actions; in the case of the Cougar swimmers, it appears that somebody took offense to the girls’ pictures. Less than a week after their historic defeat of the Huskies, the team were suspended from training with their coaches and denied the opportunity to compete at the Indiana Invitational, which is currently underway in Bloomington, IN. Before the season began, the Invitational was chosen, as are all meets, with consideration. It was to play a vital role in the team’s 2006-2007 season.

Now, your sensibilities may lead you to agree that posting sexy pictures of yourself online isn’t smart. I work for a “dotcom” and I have a keen appreciation of how visible everything is on the net. This said, pictures of silly girls in pretty panties are not offensive enough to cancel a swim meet that is historically WSU’s strongest meet of the year, Pac 10 Championships and NCAAs included. Given the atriocious behaviour I’ve seen on the streets of Pullman from members of other WSU sports teams, being at home on a Saturday night trying out the Victoria’s Secret catelogue should be rewarded.

Some more tastefully attired swimmers?

Of course, university officials who are paying for many of these athletes’ educations have a right to ask that the athletes present a respectable image to the public. Asking that these photos be taken down would have been perfectly understandable, but denying this team the right to compete in Indiana may well have cost team members NCAA booths. Furthermore, the actions of the athletic department may have denied NCAA booths to athletes who were not at the party.

This raises the issue of a team, and whether all team members should be punished for the actions of a few. A debate on this subject could stretch this essay into a novel, so I shall keep my opinion on the subject simple. Swimming is an individual sport, and swimmers remain individually responsible for their actions inside and outside of the pool. In sports such as football, hockey and rugby, the actions of one’s team mates are often both the cause and effect of an individual’s success or failure. Although I loved my team mates and appreciated their presence, by two best athletic performances (one in 2001, the other in 2005) were a very personal effort.

Given my personal situation when I was a member of the WSU swim team, I know with certainty that I would not have been present at the girls’ lingerie party. Without fail, I spent every weekend 78 miles from Pullman. I would have been appalled by the administration’s decision to cancel my team’s trip to Indiana, and I since I would have had nothing to do with the party or the photographs, I would have been disgusted enough to transfer colleges. Selfish, yes; however, my selfishness has kept me out of trouble many times, and has garnered success for me at other times.

Tonight, WSU’s swimmers watched their football team lose to the Huskies. Tomorrow, they will travel to their various homes for the Thanksgiving holiday and someone else will stand on their starting blocks in Indiana. In March, at least one WSU swimmer will travel to Minneapolis to compete in the NCAA Championships, but there is a good chance that some WSU swimmers who would have posted qualifying times in Indiana will now not qualify for that competition.

I firmly believe that the college’s sports administration decided to make an example out of the swim team. While making an example out of anyone is an awful move, taking this sort of “now you remember this in the future” action against swimmers is very low. Swimming is a horribly hard sport: the training is relentless, the hours are very long, the chlorine burn is painful and recovery is difficult. Political correctness being pretty much out of the question right now, the administration should have picked on an easier sport. Give the soccer team a slap on the wrist. Do not make an example out of a group of girls whose dedication, loyalty and work ethic exceeds what is necessary.

If the swimmers had done something truly awful, those involved should have been excluded from the trip to Indiana. What has happened in Pullman this week is truly despicable. I emplore anyone in an administrative role to understand the difference between actions that are simply misguided, and crimes that deserve severe punishment. To WSU’s sports administration, I sincerely hope you haven’t damanged four years of hard work, but you probably have. Your actions are far more contemptable, embarrassing and hurtful than was a panty party. I hope you are ashamed of yourselves.

POST SCRIPT: The author notes that a WSU swimming alumae party where granny panties and floppy Cougar tee-shirts were worn is not appropriate Facebook material. However, the author also emplores readers to visit Flickr and view the search for “PubCon Party.” That was a good night.