Why “No t-shirt in the pool” rule doesn’t hold water

| March 20, 2014 | 4 Comments
man in t-shirt in swimming pool

Is this man dangerous? No? Then why treat him like he is? From tornatore.

At first glance, the story out of Bakersfield, Calif., about a man who’s fighting the city to be able to wear a t-shirt while swimming might seem trivial — the kind of fodder local news stations love, but which have no real consequences. Dig deeper, however, and you’ll see that this issue is about much more than a t-shirt. Ultimately, it’s about who lives and dies in the water.

If that sounds like hyperbole, consider that the number one predictor of drowning is, quite simply, not knowing how to swim. For children, knowing how to swim reduces the risk of drowning by 88 percent, according to statistics from USA Swimming. Conversely, if a parent doesn’t know how to swim, there’s only a 13 percent likelihood their children will learn how. 

Adults don’t know how to swim for a lot of reasons such as having an actual phobia of the water. But for a growing number of males the thing that keeps them out of the water is pure body image. The Bakersfield story is a case in point: The man in question, 64-year-old Scott Whyte, wants to wear a t-shirt while he swims because he surgery has left unsightly scars. But what Whyte doesn’t seem to admit is that he’s also embarrassed of his body. He likes the forbidden t-shirts over the acceptable rashguards because t-shirts are roomier and make him feel more comfortable. Conversely, the rashguard shirt clings in an ucomfortable, and unsightly way. The city’s pool managers maintain that cotton t-shirts pose a risk because they can become baggy in the water and make lifesaving more difficult.

Maybe. But stubbornly sticking to that policy, to the point of alienating a dedicated swimmer and creating controversy in the community, is the equivalent of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The more policies such as this restrict people from swimming, the fewer will be able to develop that lifesaving skill.

This takes on extra weight when you start considering that some Hispanics prefer to swim with a t-shirt on, again because of body image. Hispanics also happen to have the second lowest swimming abilities after African Americans — and thus one of the highest drowning rates. In fact, 60 percent of Hispanics don’t know how to swim, meaning there’s a good chance their parents don’t know how either, according to research from USA Swimming.

So rather than make it more uncomfortable for people like Whyte to get into the pool, managers should be doing everything they can to make everyone feel welcome and comfortable in the water, t-shirts or no. Pools with policies that forbid t-shirts should consider changing them, and accept that the safety argument is weak at best. In Bakersfield, Whyte plans to challenge the policy himself in front of the city council. A win for him would be a victory for swimmers — and water safety.

Tags: , , , ,

Category: Hygiene, Pools, Safety

About the Author

Gary Thill is the former editor of Aquatics International, an award-winning magazine for the commercial pool and waterpark markets. He is a nationally recognized writer and editor with an extensive communications background that includes print, online and social media.
; ;