A lawsuit has been filed and an investigation is in response to a July incident alleging racism at The Valley Swim Club in Huntingdon Valley, Penn., and industry leaders have spoken out strongly on the matter.
According to reports, Creative Steps Day Camp, a program for inner city kids paid more than $1500 to the outside of Philadelphia club for use of the pool once a week. On the first visit, the group of more than 50 children was asked not to come back. Money was returned and both camp leaders and parents cited blatant racism as the cause.
“I heard this lady, she was like, ‘Uh, what are all these black kids doing here’ She’s like, ‘I’m scared they might do something to my child,” camper Dymire Baylor told a local NBC affiliate covering the story.
Club president John Duesler said the issue was safety, but after a firestorm of media coverage and protests the camp was asked back. However, that was not enough to satisfy the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission. An investigation by the PHRC is ongoing.
The outcome of the lawsuit is also still pending, Shawn DeRosa, J.D., president of Boston-based DeRosa Aquatic Consulting, suggests that legal precedent may be on the side of the camp.
“Although many clubs consider themselves ‘private’ or ‘exclusive’ the law is not necessarily on their side when it comes to racially discriminatory practices,” said DeRosa. “While ‘truly private’ clubs are allowed to discriminate under Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, whether a club is truly private will be for a court to decide. Because we as a society value diversity and frown upon discrimination, courts rarely find clubs to be ‘truly private.’ … In this case, the fact that the pool was used by non-member groups may, among other things, suggest to the court that the pool was not ‘truly private’ and therefore any pattern of discriminatory conduct could be construed as a Title II violation.”
Although The Valley Swim Club is not a USA Swim Club, officials at USA Swimming are particularly disturbed by the incident and say it undermines efforts to reduce documented disparities between white and minority drowning rates and reflects badly on aquatics as a whole.
“The alleged statements of the Valley Swim Club and its president, John Duesler, are disheartening especially as we are working hard to try to increase diversity in pools across America,” said Chuck Wielgus, Executive Director, USA Swimming and CEO, USA Swimming Foundation in a public statement on the USA Swimming Web site. “We do hope this unfortunate incident, or others like it, will not prevent or dissuade young people of color or other minority children from learning to swim. All kids, regardless of ethnicity or economic backgrounds deserve the opportunity to learn to swim and enjoy the sport.”
According to John Cruzat, these kinds of incidents “are not unheard of’ and racial discrimination is still tolerated in many private clubs.
“It’s the responsibility of aquatic leaders to create an environment free of these kinds of statements and USA is committed to ensuring that these types of facilities do not show up as examples of what we want to achieve.”
USA Swimming is in the process of developing cultural competency training for swim clubs, and downloadable materials should be available soon.