Lack of modesty in sports uniforms excludes potential athletes

Many+different+types+of+athletes+may+want+to+opt+for+more+modest+uniforms%2C+but+with+extremely+limited+options%2C+theyre+forced+to+find+alternatives+or+may+quit+their+sport+altogether.

Photo by Alex Druley

Many different types of athletes may want to opt for more modest uniforms, but with extremely limited options, they’re forced to find alternatives or may quit their sport altogether.

When thinking of sports uniforms, the word modesty likely does not come to mind. Instead of worrying about what’s appropriate or in line with your faith or culture, you might instead focus on whether you’ll be stylish on the court or field.

Uniforms are needed for most sports, but shouldn’t there be another option for people who are not comfortable with how tight one may be or how much skin it might show? People that have different body types may not feel comfortable with the type of clothing they are provided, and those that practice religions that prohibit certain kinds of clothing may even be reluctant to join sports. 

International athletic brands like Nike have recently started clothing and equipment lines that are more modest. While these modest options are more prevalent than ever professionally, they are very expensive to purchase, especially for the average high school student.

I played tennis for the Columbia Heights High School (CHHS) team for three years and I wore the hijab, a Muslim head covering, for only my last year. I always tried to dress modestly and did not feel comfortable showing as much skin as others. It is okay for people to choose what they feel comfortable in, and this choice should be more widely available to student-athletes.

I want to make it clear that I am in no way disrespecting anyone who decides to wear the original uniform. I was given a sports hijab and was told that was what the school provided.  I had multiple conversations with my fellow Muslim teammates to see how they felt too.  

When I was young, I was hesitant to join sports mainly because of the uniforms that don’t resonate with my religion,” tennis player Anoosha Ali (12) said. “I would love to see our school expanding the uniform options to fit regulations of Islam so more Muslim girls can be encouraged to participate in sports.” 

So, while Nike may be unaffordable and the school technically does hand out hijabs for Muslim students, Islam is not a one-size-fits-all faith, and different student-athletes may have different comfort levels. 

For example, the NCAA Volleyball teams allow their players to wear leggings instead of shorts. Softball players in Ontario are given long-sleeve undershirts to wear with their typically short-sleeve uniforms something in which Columbia Heights has followed suit. These players and more have more of a choice on what uniform they can wear than just a hijab. The Illinois legislature also recently voted to pass the Inclusive Athletic Attire Act, which would help to assure and provide Muslim student-athletes with more modest uniform options. 

Our tennis uniform here at CHHS consists of a tennis skirt and a tank top. Players are also given a warm-up jacket and some sweatpants. This is simply not enough for such a diverse school.

To be clear, I have felt nothing but support from the Columbia Heights activities office and my coaches, so I hope that Muslim student-athletes can work together with the district to enact some change in favor of inclusion and student comfort. 

“We are trying to create an inclusive environment,” said Ms. Crystal Vital-Schwartz and Mr. Jake Henderson of the CHPS Activities Department. “We don’t want uniforms to be the reason for someone not to participate.”  

My past tennis coaches Mr. Ryan Vande Linde and Mr. Luke Sands, in particular, were both also very supportive and always asked if I was comfortable with my uniform. At the beginning of each season, I had asked if I could modify the normal uniform, and there were no issues. However, not all coaches are open to their players modifying their uniforms, and some students are far more likely to be able to afford and/or take the initiative to modify their uniforms on their own. 

Someone’s love for a sport should not be impacted by their religion or comfort in regulating athletic wear. If we can start providing alternative uniform options, it would benefit students’ comfort levels and increase the number of people who want to join sports here at Heights. Who knows? It could even possibly prevent us from having to co-opt with other schools for so many sports due to low registration.