Black high school softball player told to cut hair

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 14, 2021

Associated Press

RALEIGH — The Durham school system has called for a rule change after a Black softball player was told to cut her hair because of the beads she was wearing, adding that the rule is “culturally biased.”

Nicole Pyles of Durham Hillside High School was told by two umpires that she would either have to remove the beads or leave the game on April 19 against in-town rival Jordan High School, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported. The home plate umpire was Black and the base umpire was white, according to the newspaper.

Pyles chose to let her teammates cut her hair to remove the beads so she could continue playing in her team’s senior night game, which Jordan won 23-12. In a Facebook live video of the game, a plea can be heard from the Hillside dugout: “Does anyone have scissors?”

The National Federation of State High School Association’s official rulebook stipulates beads aren’t allowed to be worn, and neither are plastic visors and bandannas. The rules allow bobby pins, barrettes and hair clips.

“It was humiliating,” Pyles told the newspaper during a Zoom interview. “Why do I have to take away from myself just to play this game where we are actually doing well? I’m embarrassed because you pick on me in front of all these people for no reason.”

Pyles felt her treatment by the umpires, particularly the white base umpire, was unfair.

“He had seen me play multiple times … if it was a rule that’s that important why wasn’t it enforced the first time you spoke to me or you saw me come on the field or off the field or any of that?” she said.

While acknowledging the rule, Durham Public Schools launched an investigation into the incident, criticized the rule and offered its support to Pyles in the second of two statements issued on Wednesday.

“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 said. “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. We frown on any rule or policy that promotes cultural insensitivity or does not reflect the ideals and principles of DPS and our employees.”

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice has also taken issue with the rule, saying this is a “hair discrimination incident” while calling on Durham and state officials to “pass policies that eradicate all forms of anti-Black biases in schools.”

In January, Durham passed a nondiscrimination policy covering hairstyles. Since then, Orange and Mecklenburg counties, as well as Carrboro and Greensboro, enacted similar policies. Bills to make those policies statewide laws were filed in both houses of the General Assembly, but neither passed.

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