GLASSBORO — After a student wrote a viral post for an online publication this week decrying a decision to ban women athletes from practicing in sports bras, Rowan University is saying it will revise its policy.
Rowan cross country runner Gina Capone, a sophomore from Hamilton, Mercer County, wrote a post for The Odyssey on Thursday that stated her team was told it could no longer practice in sports bras or run on the track because it was a distraction for the football team.
“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,” wrote Capone, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The post spread on social media and had Rowan alumni and students enraged.
On Friday afternoon, Rowan President Ali Houshmand responded to the public outcry with a statement that Rowan’s administration met with the Athletics Department and plans to immediately develop a written policy that allows women athletes to wear sports bras without shirts during practices.
“I ensure you that the university and our athletics program are committed to providing the most accommodating and fair environment for all of our athletes,” Houshmand said.
Capone states in the article that her team was notified of the sports-bra policy after a meeting between the women’s cross country coach and the athletic director.
“The fact that the athletic department supports the claim of this being distracting, or the women ‘asking for it,’ is disgusting,” Capone wrote. “We run in sports bras because our workouts are demanding, challenging, and vigorous. We run in sports bras because we are confident, hardworking student-athletes. We do not run in a sports bra as a way to show off our bodies in attempts to distract men.”
In his statement, the university president said there was previously a “verbal protocol” that all athletes must wear shirts even during practices.
“The verbal policy was adopted as a matter of keeping a level of standards throughout its men’s and women’s programs,” Houshmand 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.”
Houshmand went on to state that the verbal policy “could be misunderstood and does not accommodate today’s training practices across sports.”
“By clarifying our support of women’s athletics and its student-athletes, Rowan strongly affirms its commitment to ensuring that women are able to train and perform at the highest levels,” he said.
Jennifer Holdsworth, a 2003 Rowan graduate and two-term president of the Student Government Association there, posted a link of the article on Facebook stating she would be drafting a letter to the president regarding the story. It was shared 25 times.
“I was extremely disappointed in the double standard that was seeming to be set by the circumstances described within the article,” said Holdsworth, who now lives in Washington, D.C., and works as a lawyer and political consultant, via telephone Friday.
She said she was happy the president responded but wanted more information.
“I applaud the university to their swift attentiveness to the issue, but I think there needs to be further clarification as to why this verbal instruction was given, who authorized it and what’s going to be done to remedy it going forward,” said Holdsworth, 37.
Houshmand did not address other claims in the article that the cross country athletes were banned from using their designated practice facilities because they “were claimed to be distracting to the football players.” Rowan spokesman Joe Cardona said later Friday that was a misunderstanding of the rules.
Cardona said the school’s policy, which he said is not uncommon, is that two teams cannot use the same facility at the same time for practice and that the cross country team could use the field after the football practice was over. He said the distraction comment was interpreted incorrectly and was not intended to address the fact that the runners were women.