There have been a number of incidents recently that have crystalised concerns that we, and many others, have had for some time about the treatment of Diana Nyad on the forum. This may not be a popular move, but we are posting to explain these concerns and propose an alternative way forwards.
Fundamentally, we are uncomfortable with the ganging up of a community against an individual online, whoever that may be and whatever transgressions they may have committed. In addition to the risk of unintended consequences for both the individual and bystanders, this also creates a hostile atmosphere that is directly alienating to those who may wish to join the community, or to move in from its peripheries. This was demonstrated very clearly to us during the discussion around DN’s recent sexual assault disclosure, when Karen received many messages from women upset not only about the specific content of those discussions, but also about the sustained attack on DN more generally, which made them reluctant to visit the forum or contribute to discussions for fear of slipping into the line of fire. When we visit the forum, which we are doing less and less recently because of this same discomfort, our hearts always sink when we see another new DN post at the top of the page.
For those concerned about documenting the inconsistencies of DN’s accounts of her swimming life, this has been meticulously done and that resource has been preserved and made available. But if the aim of the project is to get her to confess to wrongdoing, this seems like a rather futile mission. Meanwhile, the most profound impact of the continued pursuit of DN is its function as a cautionary tale. The treatment of DN is a warning par excellence to newcomers and old hands alike of the price of transgression. DN is marathon swimming’s negative self-definition, and the tone of discussions about her is angry, joyless and the opposite of swimming’s possibilities.
And it is here that the community itself, it seems to us, has the opportunity to make a more positive choice. What if we actively, consciously agreed to stop talking about DN? Every discussion inflates her significance far beyond reality and her demands to be heard do not mean we have to listen and respond. One of the positive outcomes of recent discussions has been the identification of some amazing female swimming pioneers – what if we talked about them, not as a means of casting shade over DN, but in their own right? What if we agreed collectively that the more mature marathon swimming community that we currently enjoy (not least due to a lot of hard development work from Evan, Donal and numerous others) doesn’t need a demon figure against which to define itself but can stand in its own right in ways that draw people in rather than alienate or intimidate them?
We love swimming – talking about it, reading about it, writing about it, and if we can manage to stay uninjured for long enough, actually getting in the water and doing it – but we also now know that we cannot be part of a community that is so relentlessly governed by the need to attack a woman without regard for the wider consequences. We want to be part of a positive change that positions swimming, in all of its inclusive and welcoming glory, at the heart of the forum. This is our proposal.
Best wishes Karen (@KarenT) and Hadar (@heart)