Is the next Michael Phelps a Black teenager?

Michael H. Cottman

Michael H. Cottman

“I think as I get older, I’m going to need to take—play a key role in kind of integrating swimming into inner city communities a lot more” – Reece Whitley.

If you haven’t heard of Reece Whitley, it’s only a matter of time.

Towering at 6’8”, the 17-year-old swimmer who slices through water with record precision, could become the new face of the U.S. Olympic swimming team in 2020.

And that face is Black.

In a sport that is historically and overwhelmingly White, Whitley not only stands out because he is African American, but he’s gaining respect and notoriety by smashing records in the pool since he was 13 years old.

“I kind of enjoy looking at people giving me weird looks,” Whitley told The New York Times. “I use it as motivation to get so fast it makes people freak out because I’m challenging their preconceptions.”

Last year, Whitley, a high school senior, was motivated to post the seventh-fastest time among American men in the 200-meter breaststroke.

Whitley, who plans to attend The University of California, Berkeley, is one of the nation’s most exceptional recruits. He broke the national high school record this year in the breast stroke competition and his times, according to media reports, have been faster than many previous Olympians at the same age.

If he makes the U.S. Olympic team, Whitley would be a fresh face, a student who studies Mandarin Chineåse, chemistry and algebra and by all accounts is a responsible young man.

I appreciate that Whitely embraces his Blackness, challenges preconceptions, and wants to promote the sport of swimming in African American communities.

More Black kids must learn to swim. According to a recent study by the USA Swimming Foundation, 64% of African American children can’t swim. Two-time Olympic gold medalist Cullen Jones, Whitley’s historic African American predecessor on the swimming stage, was a spokesman for Make A Splash an organization that helped make it easier for kids to swim.

Whitley could also inspire more Black kids to swim the way Venus and Serena Williams have encouraged more Black kids to play tennis.