No Shirts, No Problems?: Controversial Girls Soccer Dress Code
On June 10, 1999, the Rose Bowl stadium held its breath as Brandi Chastain ran up to the soccer ball resting in front of her and sent it flying into the corner of the goal, winning the FIFA Women’s World Cup for the United States. As her teammates raced across the field toward her, Brandi triumphantly whipped her shirt off and sunk to her knees, jersey clutched in one fist.
While attracting both praise and criticism, Chastain’s 1999 goal celebration became one of the most iconic and memorable images in women’s sports history, making her a paragon of female strength and fortitude.
Now, the girls varsity soccer team is fighting to do the same as Brandi did 17 years before. This year, during preseason this past August, the soccer fields were swelteringly hot, but when they asked if they could take their shirts off and practice in sports bras they were given a firm no.
They spoke to their coaches, who gave them a list of fairly sensible reasons as to why they couldn’t practice in sports bras. The origin of these reasons: Darrin Fallick, Packer’s Athletic Director. However, the reasons—among them, the fact that the girls practice on public, rather than private, fields—did not satisfy all of the members of the team.
They had found a photo that had been recently posted on the Packer Athletics’ Instagram account by Mr. Fallick. This picture was of a group of male cross country runners, two of whom weren’t wearing shirts. The caption of the photo read: “No shirts…No problems!!!”
While this was not the first time that the girls team was aggravated about not being allowed to wear sports bras to practice, this photo seemed to upset many of them far more than the actual rule did. To them, this photo illustrated a double standard; while men were free to practice shirtless, women were not.
Archie Caride (’19) said “I have never been yelled at for taking my shirt off when celebrating goals.” However, Kai Carse (’19) says that, in his experience, boys on soccer are not allowed to take their shirts off. A few girls on the team agree that they have never seen boys take their shirts off during soccer practice. According to Mr. Fallick the unwritten rule is that “all athletes will keep all their clothes on” regardless of gender. These rules, according to him as well as a coach of the soccer team, are important to protect the athletes from unwanted attention during practice.
Furthermore, Mr. Fallick claims that he posted the photo simply “poking a little fun” and that he reprimanded the boys in the photo directly afterwards. It appears that, beyond some incidents such as this one in cross country, the informal dress code is fairly well enforced in all spheres of athletics. Whether it is enforced to a different degree in different teams is unclear, but what is essential is that the rule has been made to cover all sports and all genders.
However, one of the biggest problems that some members of the girls soccer team had with this rule was that they felt it undermined them as athletes.
“What specifically bothers me about this recent problem is that I’m here to be an athlete. I’m here on this team to be an athlete. And I’m not being treated like an athlete,” said Ellie Happy (’19), a member of the girls soccer team.
Sofia Saldanha (’19), expressed similar feelings: “That just makes me feel like they don’t consider the sport that we play the same [as the boys]. And it is, it’s the same game. It’s soccer. I could easily join a game with guys and still play.”
Even if the dress code rules—Mr. Fallick stresses that they aren’t real, written rules—are technically enforced across all genders, this subject hits a nerve among many of the girls. Sexism within sports is among the most sensitive issues, especially for women. Title IX, the law prohibiting gender-based discrimination within federally funded programs, such as school sports, was established in 1972. Even so, it has a been a constant struggle in society for women to be perceived as equal to men athletically.
Although there may not actually be a disparity in the rules regarding female and male athletes in Packer, the perception that there might have been is somewhat damaging. Sofia sums it up well when she says, “I feel less than what I should.”
Brandi Chastain may have been celebrated as a hero in female sports, but we have a long way to go before that sentiment is reflected in our own community.