Je’Nan Hayes had been part of the Watkins Mill (Maryland) High School basketball team all season. Then, without warning, she was barred from playing in her regional final game.
Because she was wearing a hijab.
According to the Washington Post, a referee told Watkins Hill coach Donita Adams that Hayes could not play thanks to a rarely enforced rule requiring “documented evidence” that any player who wears a head-covering is doing so for religious reasons.
The Watkins Hill athletic director reportedly tried to reverse the ref’s decision but was unable, leaving Hayes on the bench. Via the Post:
“I felt discriminated against and I didn’t feel good at all,” Hayes said. “If it was some reason like my shirt wasn’t the right color or whatever, then I’d be like, ‘okay.’ But because of my religion it took it to a whole different level, and I just felt that it was not right at all.”
Let’s count out all the reasons barring Hayes from this game made no sense.
- A rule making it more difficult to wear a head-covering during games will necessarily discriminate against religious minorities.
- Such a rule also seems purposeless. What is accomplished by making players prove their religion?
- Why would a teenage girl lie about her religion?
- If Hayes were, for some reason, faking her Islamic faith, wouldn’t she have relented once she was prevented from playing?
- A rule that is never enforced is hardly a rule at all.
- Hayes was new to organized baseball and didn’t play much for Watkins Hill. Whatever advantage she or her team was theoretically gaining from her hijab wasn’t going to help much.
- Hayes had played 24 games this season, and nothing disastrous had happened. Where was the danger in letting her play a 25th?
Andy Warner, executive director of Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, summed it up well.
“The officials of the game there took a strict interpretation of the rule, instead of the spirit of the rule. Does this fundamentally alter the game? Does this create an inherent risk? Does it create a competitive advantage? It doesn’t do any of those things, so why are we denying what would be approved if they were to put a simple request into the association?”
The referee was following the rule, but in doing so he was blatantly discriminating against a teenage girl. In all cases, common sense should triumph over strict adherence to obscure rules.
According to the Post, the MPSSAA and the referees’ association have apologized to Hayes.