A dispute over what constitutes political speech arose on Sunday during a teenage swim meet hosted by the Duluth YMCA. Members of the Duluth Branch of the NAACP responded to the situation at a Northern Sectional swim meet.

At that meet, a 12-year old swimmer was "temporarily barred from participating" as a volunteer official pressed the issue that the swimsuit she was wearing - with a Black Lives Matter message on it - represented political speech.  Policy for the YMCA-sponsored swim meet disallows political messaging.

When the official banned the swimmer from participating, her mother reached out to the Duluth Branch of the NAACP; that's when Branch president Classie Dudley came to the pool to "show her support".  Dudley shared her reasons for getting involved in an article in the Superior Telegram [paywall]:

"The official originally stated that it was politically motivated and that it goes against their policy of no political speech.  [The swimmer involved] is 12 and she's trying to share the fact that she matters.  There's nothing political about that.  Even if it was too big, Black Lives Matter isn't a logo like Adidas.  And if you're telling me that Black Lives Matter has been whittled down to a political statement or logo, then you're basically telling me that Black lives don't matter."

After deliberation, the official who disqualified the swimmer "changed their reason for dismissal to one of logo size rather than political speech".

Swimming pool with stair at luxury hotel

At the same time that NAACP arrived at the scene, so did leadership with the Duluth YMCA.  The vice president of the organization overturned the officials decision to disqualify the swimmer and allowed her to get back to the competition.

In addition, the Duluth YMCA removed the official in question from the swimming meet.  They're also banned from officiating at future swimming meets that are hosted by the Duluth YMCA.

In a statement, the Duluth YMCA shared their support of the swimmer:

"The Duluth YMCA is saddened that the student, their family, and teammates had to endure this unacceptable behavior.  The Duluth YMCA will continue our ongoing commitment to train all staff and volunteers on diversity, equity, and inclusion.  The Duluth Area Family YMCA is committed to being an anti-racist organization and stands with BIPOC communities throughout the Northland and throughout our country. We know that Black Lives Matter and we will continue to work to educate ourselves, to stand against inequality, and to strive to be active allies in the ongoing fight for diversity, equity, and inclusion."

It's worth noting that the swimming official involved with the situation is not associated with the Duluth YMCA.


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