“So many people in my family did not learn how to swim because, you know, their hair wouldn’t stay straight, or it’d be too unruly, or whatever,” she said. “So I always had braids in my hair when I was younger, and I don’t know why it just didn’t bother me that my hair was different than my peers in swimming.” While the silicone swim caps she used in practice were comfortable enough, the latex caps used at swim meets were not.
“The ones for racing were so tight on my edges,” she said. “I hated it. I would have these long braids at Columbia, like the people on 125th Street would be doing my hair and it would be down my back, so me putting my hair in that cap was torture.” Ms. Adams added that she “would have loved to have had a bigger swim cap.”
FINA’s ruling, she said, feels — even if just symbolically — like yet another barrier for Black swimmers to participate in the sport, particularly for Black women who “usually have more hair.”
“We’re always policed on what we can wear and what our bodies are looking like, and what our hair is looking like,” she said. “They’re just trying to make it difficult for us to have ease when participating.”
Miles Simon, a junior psychology major from Atlanta who swam in the trials for this summer’s Tokyo Olympics — and is the second Olympic trial qualifier in any sport from Howard University, a historically Black university — said he just wanted to understand why the cap was banned.
“Help me understand why and then maybe I can see it from your eyes, but right now I’m not sure why some of these rules or bans are in place,” Mr. Simon said. He plans to compete to join the Olympic team in 2024.