Je’Nan Hayes was banned from playing in her high school varsity basketball game because of her hijab.
The Muslim student hadn’t had a problem the rest of the season, playing in all 24 games prior to the final. And since she was not a starter, she didn’t even suspect anything was amiss when she was kept out of the play, feeling disappointed but assuming her coach had simply forgotten to put her in.
However, afterwards Hayes discovered the truth. The referee had prohibited Hayes from playing in the final game, per The National Federation of State High School Association’s rule against head decorations or headwear.
Of course, it seems a bit of common sense was missing there, since the rule is meant for safety and fair play, and not to ostracize someone because of their religious beliefs.
There is even a clause saying that head decorations can be worn for religious reasons, but only if there is documentation. Since Hayes hadn’t known about the rule, she had not brought a special waiver, proving that she wore the hijab was for religious reasons.
“Once I found out, I had mixed emotions – anger, sadness and disappointment at the ref for making the call,” Hayes told CNN. And can you blame her?
The state’s high school sports ruling body has since said that Hayes should have been allowed to play, which does little good for the high school student, who has already missed her team’s last game.
However, the silver lining is that the ruling body has since promised to work with the school and Hayes’s family to ensure nothing like that happens again.
But don’t think Hayes is contented with that “too little too late” apology. She and her family are working with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) to try and change the rules, or at least add an addendum so no other students will have to feel isolated, like Hayes was.
“I’m Muslim, I’m American. I was born here. I’ve been here all my life… This is the way I choose to represent my faith and it isn’t because I’m being forced. I want to,” said Hayes, who plans to go out for the basketball team again next year… in her hijab.
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