12-Year-Old Swimmer Nearly Disqualified for Wearing ‘Black Lives Matter’ Suit

by Sarah Berman 146

February 09th, 2022 Club, News

During a swim meet in Superior, Wisconsin on Sunday at Superior High School, 12-year-old swimmer Leidy Lyons was nearly disqualified for wearing a bathing suit with the slogan ‘Black Lives Matter.’ Duluth YMCA officials overturned the disqualification, and Lyons was allowed to compete in the bathing suit. 

Lyons created the bathing suit herself after hearing about Amir Locke being fatally shot by the Minneapolis police on February 2.

According to Lyons’s mother, Sarah Lyons, the official claimed that Lyons’s bathing suit violated USA Swimming’s policy against political language and told the young swimmer that if she did not change, she would be disqualified. 

The Duluth YMCA Northerns Swim Team is a dual-sanctioned YMCA and USA Swimming program.

The 2022 USA Swimming Rulebook states that political statements are not allowed on athletes’ swimwear, but does not further define what a political statement is.

YMCA rules don’t appear to outlaw political statements on suits outright, though there are some limitations on using YMCA resources to publicize political campaigns or committees (to maintain non-profit status).

In an interview with CBS Duluth, Sarah Lyons said, ““She said, ‘mom, I’m not taking the suit off, and I said ‘you go girl’ and ‘okay,’” said Lyons. 

Sarah Lyons then called Classie Dudley, the NAACP Duluth Branch President to explain her daughter’s disqualification. 

“The official originally stated that it was politically motivated and that it goes against their policy of no political speech,” Dudley said in an interview with the Duluth News Tribune. “Leidy is 12 and she’s trying to share the fact that she matters. There’s nothing political about that.” Dudley drove to Superior High School to assist with the situation at hand. 

The official then changed the disqualification from political speech to logo size. The 2022 USA Swimming Rulebook states that regarding logo size, “A total of three separate advertising logos of a maximum size of 30 square centimeters (4.65 sq. in.) each, measured as worn, shall be permitted.”

“I didn’t want to entertain that because it was obviously untrue,” Dudley told the Duluth News Tribune. “Even if it was too big, Black Lives Matter isn’t a logo like Adidas. And if you’re telling me that Black Lives Matter has been whittled down to a political statement or a logo, then you’re basically telling me that Black lives don’t matter.” 

While it’s hard to measure from pictures how big the words were, USA Swimming limits logos to “a total of three separate advertising logos of a maximum size of 30 square centimeters (4.65 sq. in.) each.” The text appears larger than this logo.

Within ten-minutes of Dudley’s arrival at the swim meet, Lyons’s disqualification was overruled by the Duluth Family YMCA vice-president, and Lyons was allowed to continue competing. 

The official who made the initial disqualification was removed from officiating duties, and will be blocked from future Duluth Family YMCA meets. 

Duluth Family YMCA has since released a statement about the incident.

“The Duluth YMCA is saddened that the student, their family, and teammates had to endure this unacceptable behavior. The Duluth YMCA will continue our ongoing commitment to train all staff and volunteers on diversity, equity, and inclusion,” the statement said. “The Duluth Area Family YMCA is committed to being an anti-racist organization and stands with BIPOC communities throughout the Northland and throughout our country. We know that Black Lives Matter and we will continue to work to educate ourselves, to stand against inequality, and to strive to be active allies in the ongoing fight for diversity, equity and inclusion.”

SwimSwam has reached out to USA Swimming for more information about the “political statements” rule, and is awaiting response.

The Full USA Swimming rules governing swimwear are below:

USA Swimming Rule 102.8 SWIMWEAR

  1. Design 
  2. Swimwear shall include only a swimsuit, cap, and goggles. It is not permissible to wear more than two (2) caps. Armbands or leg bands shall not be regarded as parts of the swimsuit and are not allowed. 
  3. In swimming competitions, the swimmer must wear only one swimsuit in one or two pieces, except as provided in 205.10.1. All swimsuits shall be made from textile materials.  For men, the swimsuit shall not extend above the navel nor below the knees, and for women, shall not cover the neck, extend past the shoulder, nor extend below the knee (see 701.4.4 for open water exception).
  1. Exemptions to the foregoing restriction may be granted to a swimmer, on a case by case basis, by the Chair of the Rules & Regulations Committee (or his/her designee). Exemptions will be granted only for conflicts due to the swimmer’s verified religious beliefs, verified medical conditions or other reasons deemed appropriate by the Rules Chair. 
  2.  Procedures for applying for an exemption will be established by the Rules & Regulations Committee and posted on the USA Swimming website. 
  3. No exemption to this restriction will be granted for a swimsuit that will give the swimmer a competitive advantage. 
  4. The decision of the Rules Chair may be appealed only to the entire Rules & Regulations Committee, whose decision shall be final and binding on all parties. C 
  1. Only swimsuits complying with FINA swimsuit specifications may be worn in any USA Swimming sanctioned or approved competition. 
  2. Swimsuits worn for competition must be non-transparent and conform to the current concept of the appropriate. 
  3. No swimmer is permitted to wear or use any device, substance or swimsuit to help his/ her speed, pace, buoyancy or endurance during a race (such as webbed gloves, flippers, fins, power bands, adhesive substances, etc.). Goggles may be worn, and rubdown oil applied if not considered excessive by the Referee. Therapeutic elastic tape is prohibited. Any other kind of tape on the body is not permitted unless approved by the Referee. 
  4. No Technical Suits shall be worn by any 12 & Under USA Swimming athlete member in competition at any sanctioned, approved or observed meet. 
  1. Exceptions to the foregoing restriction are only for Junior Nationals, U.S. Open, National Championships, and Olympic Trials. 
  2. A Technical Suit is one that has the following components: a. Any suit with any bonded or taped seams regardless of its fabric or silhouette; or b. Any suit with woven fabric extending past the hips. 

(Note: WOVEN FABRIC — A suit with woven fabric and sewn seams that does not extend below the hips is permitted.) 

(Note: KNIT FABRIC — A suit with knit fabric and sewn seams not extending below the knees is permitted.) 

  1. Insignia — Swimmers may wear the insignia and/or name of the club or organization they represent or of which they are a member or the insignia of their FINA National Federation or Organizing Committees for Olympic, World, Continental or Regional Championships, except as otherwise provided in 202.9.3 for international competition and in FINA rules GR5 and GR6. Swimmers shall not be allowed to wear the insignia and/or name of any club or organization which they are not entitled to represent in open competition, if such action is objectionable to that club or organization.


  1. Advertising means the normal display of the name, designation, trademark, logo, or any other distinctive sign of the manufacturer of the item or any other advertiser permitted in accordance with this rule. FINA labeling and the USA Swimming logo or club logo shall not be considered as advertisements. Logos of the swimwear manufacturer shall be considered as advertising and are included in the limits described in (1) through (3) below. In the competition venue or complex of all events conducted by and under the control of USA Swimming or any LSC or division thereof, advertising appearing on swimwear is allowed as follows: 
    1. Swimsuits — A total of three separate advertising logos of a maximum size of 30 square centimeters (4.65 sq. in.) each, measured as worn, shall be permitted. 
    2. Caps — A total of three separate advertising logos of a maximum size of 20 square centimeters (3.1 sq. in.) each, as measured as applied, shall be permitted. A club logo is not considered as advertising and is not subject to the size limitations. 
    3. Goggles — A total of three separate advertising logos of a maximum size of 6 square centimeters (.9 sq. in.) each, as measured as applied, shall be permitted, but only on the spectacle frame or band. 
  1. Body advertising in the form of temporary tattoos or other embellishments is not allowed.
  2. Advertising for the following shall not be allowed: 
  1. Products involving tobacco, nicotine, psychoactive cannabinoids, alcohol or pharmaceuticals containing substances banned under IOC or FINA rules;
  2. Political statements; and
  3. Any products or services that would be counter to the values of the sport or bring disrepute to USA Swimming.
  4. Swimmers in violation of the above provisions may be barred from the competition venue until they comply. However, any swimmer who competes in an event wearing swimwear in violation of these advertising provisions shall not be subject to disqualification.

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Texas Dad
9 months ago

We would parent allow a child to promote a corrupt organization that does not follow the rules? Founder used the money to by homes!


Washed Up
9 months ago

If she swims high school in Minnesota she will not be allowed to wear anything but team suit and cap with school name or mascot. That is the rule. She’s about to become a 7th grader. 7th graders can compete in Minnesota high school meets. Will be interesting where this goes to if she tries in high school meets next year. I believe the point of this rule is to prevent judgement calls. By not allowing anything except team name and mascot you avoid the slippery slope of what is and isn’t allowed. Im all for no additional adornments on suits. Plenty of time outside of swim meets to make your feelings known.

9 months ago

I don’t understand why the girl parent just follows the rules. All teams wear team swim suit .. why is she not wearing team gear? Is the rule doesn’t apply here? The official should never even being put in the position to make the call.. our team would send us home..I would like to ask the parent, If this really was necessary at a swimming meet? Is the motive to grab the attention to you or the cause ? Our world is not a perfect world but at least allow our children to enjoy the competition and friendship so to spare them from the issues of the world today. They have already went through so much in the last few… Read more »

Reply to  Txswimming
9 months ago

There is no rule that requires all swimmers to wear team gear.

9 months ago

I am a flaming liberal who wholeheartedly supports the BLM movement. But I totally disagree with the banning of the official, not only from the meet, but also all future meets hosted by that YMCA. I am sympathetic to the girl’s feelings, especially in light of the recent tragic death of Amir Locke; I’m even somewhat understanding the family’s suspicion that the initial call was racially motivated. But to say “BLM” is not a political statement is simply disingenuous. We are talking about whether a statement/logo is OBJECTIVELY political, not the girl’s personal understanding. When the Memphis sanitation workings walked the picket line with signs, “I AM A MAN,” I doubt anybody would have said, “Oh, that’s just a statement… Read more »

Reply to  TWU
9 months ago

I have read through peoples arguments about this throughout the day. This is the definition from the dictionary for what was on the suit. It clearly states it is political. The official making the decision was likely the Deck ref/Meet ref and maybe did as I did and looked this up for clarification. That is what I would have done under the circumstances. This is what we often do when a question like this arises. Rule books come out, things get looked up, then decisions are made. The meet was most likely USA sanctioned and if that was the case shame on the YMCA for their behavior. They are the last group to ever follow through on the morals they… Read more »

9 months ago

If the meet was being run under rules that say no political messaging should be worn on swimsuits then the rules should be applied. There is no doubt that “Black Lives Matter” is political and many people feel strongly about it one way or the other. That is what political messaging is about.

It would be interesting to see what would happen if a different potentially political message was to be “tested”. Being as it is topical, and another hot potato, how about “Transwomen are Women” on one swimmer and “Woman = Adult Human Female” on another? This is a subject, like BLM that many young women especially are deeply affected by and may want to demonstrate their feelings about… Read more »

9 months ago

It’s not the official’s fault if the rule doesn’t make sense. I’m fine with letting the girl swim in the suit, but no need to ban an official who just stuck to the letter of the law. It’s a gray area where USA Swimming could’ve seen something like this coming and had the rules specified ahead of time.

9 months ago

1) BLM is a political (or social organization).
BLM is run like a company. It has a website, budget, salaries… So, yes – it was an advertisement.

2) It was also a political message. If it was someone with MAGA message, they would be correctly DQ-ed. If it was someone with Blue Lives Matter message they would be DQ-ed.

So, no DQ in this case is shameful cave-in to a political pressure (or, more correctly, the way to avoid the pressure).

Reply to  yinz
9 months ago

well which one is it? political or social? Churches are also political, social, religious, and (frequently) profit-driven organisations/businesses (especially in the US). So, does the organisation Black Lives Matter own the trademark for that statement (spoiler alert: it doesn’t)? What you’re doing is equating a statement to a movement with an incredibly varied set of political messages. We don’t attach the same set of concepts to a cross – which we could: a cross is an expression of christian beliefs and therefore intrinsically linked to christian religious organisations (though they don’t own the cross symbol – note: a parallel). These organisations also have a plethora of political opinions, but generally seek to influence politics in a direction of anti-choice, anti-LGBT,… Read more »

Last edited 9 months ago by Koen
Sam B
Reply to  yinz
9 months ago

on what planet MAGA is similar to BLM? Do I need to spell out the differences?
here is a list of similarities:
they are both letters from the alphabet
– the end

swim mom
Reply to  yinz
9 months ago

There is the organization (political), and there is the movement (social). I am black, and I would never wear a BLM because I never want to be associated with the organization.

9 months ago

I posted this on MLK’s birthday:

I believe we white people should honor MLK by admitting we all are racists. Some have been raised to be racists, the rest of us have been bombarded with racist messages, news, movies, etc for a long time. It is what we do about that that makes us better persons or racist morons.

I support BLM and for this girl that is not a political statement, that is an existential/survival statement. This is still a racist society and she is sadly already aware of that. That said, you can bet there are already scores of MAGA parents plotting to paste MAGA messages on swimsuits of their children. It can turn ugly if not quickly… Read more »

Reply to  PsychoDad
9 months ago

Everyone has prejudices, it is ridiculous to state that specifically all white people are racists.

Reply to  bobthebuilderrocks
9 months ago

read your sentence again – looks like you contradicted yourself. If we all have prejudices, might we all be racists by extension?

the term “racist” is about as loaded as it gets, so I understand why you’re wary of applying it. But it’s a spectrum. I don’t think Psychodad is saying that all white people are racist in the same degree of the KKK.

I actually think you both agree about the ubiquity of bias in all people and just have different ideas about language and where to apply the word “racist”

Just my 2cents!

Sam B
Reply to  bobthebuilderrocks
9 months ago

facts are stubborn