A Black student athlete in Durham, North Carolina was forced to cut her hair beads just so she could continue playing in a game.
As The New York Times reported, Nicole Pyles, a member of the Hillside High School softball team, was playing in a matchup against Jordan High School when a white man complained to the umpire about the length of her hair, which he said was covering the number on the back of her jersey — a breach of the rules. Though photos show that her jersey number was still visible, Pyles and her team members tucked her beads — which she’s played with on numerous occasions — inside of her sports bra with hopes to resolve the issue.
Instead, the umpire presented her with an ultimatum: take the beads out or sit out the rest of the game. She chose the former.
After noticing that some of her beads were difficult to remove, a teammate requested a pair of scissors and used it to cut them out of her hair.
“At this point, I feel humiliated,” Pyles said in an interview with the News & Observer. She shared her understanding of policies that prohibit the use of hair clips and accessories but claimed that the rule regarding hair beads is discriminatory. “Ask yourself, who else wears beads?” she added. “Who else wears things that hang off braids in your hair? Only Black girls.”
Pyles is now calling for the repeal of the hair beads policy as well the enactment of rules that eliminate anti-Black hair discrimination for Black athletes. She also wants an apology from “the whole system.”
Considering the rule that forbids plastic visors, bandannas and hair beads during a game, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association sided with the umpire. “This is not a new rule, and when the violation was noticed by an umpire, the proper determination of illegal equipment was verified,” NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker told WRAL.
“We empathize with the student athlete and her experience,” he continued. “It is truly unfortunate, as we believe this situation should never have occurred. The NCHSAA expectation is that coaches will know the playing rules and ensure that their players are also aware of them before participating in any athletic contest.”
Durham Public Schools, however, is backing Pyles and her requests. “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 district said in a statement. “We support our student, Nicole Pyles, and believe this rule should be amended.”