A 16-year-old student athlete from Durham, North Carolina spoke out recently after school officials made her cut her hair in order to keep playing in a softball game. Nicole Pyles told ABC News that she felt “disrespected and humiliated” after having to cut her braids.
During a game on April 19, Nicole said an umpire told her they weren’t able to see her uniform number because of the beaded braid style she was wearing. The student-athlete said she’d worn that hairstyle at other games before. She’d tried to tuck the braids into her shirt but after a second complaint, the umpire told her the beads violated rules. Pyles was then given a choice: cut her braids or stop playing.
“I truly felt like in my heart that it was not a choice… That’s my team, so I will stand by them no matter what,” the teen said. “Beads are not going to be the reason we don’t win a game.”
The teen told the outlet that she felt singled out. “My hair means a lot to me… I’m not going to let braids take away from who I am on the field and off the field, but it is a part of me and no, I don’t want that to be stripped away from me,” she said.
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFSH) which contributes to uniform rules for high school sports around the country, beads, bandanas, and plastic visors are prohibited on the softball field.
The organization’s executive director, Dr. Karissa Niehoff, said the rules are for safety. “We want to make sure that if anything is in the hair, or on the head, it can fit snugly under a helmet so that the fit of the helmet isn’t compromised. The rule was never intended to address any kind of prohibition of a culture or ethnic group or even a hairstyle that might be comfortable for a participant,” Niehoff said.
The governing body also added that the incident could have been avoided with better communication and consistency about the rule at previous games shouldn’t have occurred.
Nicole’s father, Julius Pyles, told the outlet he wants the school district and coaching staff to offer a formal apology.
“When my child came home and I looked at her head, all it brought me back was memories of stuff that I said I never want my children to endure. And all the [school officials] are hiding behind is the damn rule, a rule that a white man comes up with,” Julius Pyles said.
“I want the world to know how I feel as a Black man, and as a father that my child had to be ridiculed in order to play a simple game.”
The NFSH is reportedly meeting next month for its annual assessment of guidelines and will be looking into this rule.
Durham Public Schools released a statement on the incident and called the rule problematic, citing its support of the CROWN Act. “DPS supports our student-athletes and their right to self-expression in a manner befitting their culture, consistent with safety in training and competition,” the statement read in part.
“We believe the blanket ban on hair beads is culturally biased and problematic. We support our student, Nicole Pyles, and believe this rule should be amended,” the statement added.
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