A Black high school softball player says she feels "humiliated" and "embarrassed" after she was forced to cut her hair to remove hair beads in order to keep playing in a high school game in Durham, NC, last month.
Nicole Pyles was told by two umpires, as well as her Hillside High School coaches, in the second inning of her senior night game against rival Jordan High School, that she would need to cut her hair.
The umpires were following a strict interpretation of the National Federation of State High School Association's that allows players to use bobby pins, barrettes and hair clips but prohibits plastic visors, bandannas and hair beads.
Pyles allowed her teammates to cut her hair and remove the beads so she could continue playing, but it was nevertheless a traumatizing experience.
“It was humiliating,” Pyles told The News & Observer on Wednesday. “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.”
The home plate umpire was Black and the base umpire was white.
The Durham Public School District released a statement, saying that it supports Pyles and believe the NFHS rules should be changed as they are "culturally biased."
“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.”
For her part, Pyles said she'd played with the beads in her hair previously and was never told to remove them.
“I was upset,” she said. “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?”
The statement from DPS Wednesday said the district will “be diligently working to encourage the NCHSAA and NFHS to review their policies that on the surface seem fair but are culturally biased and inappropriate. The aim is to make sure that all our athletes regardless of race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation have the opportunity to compete without rules that target them based on any of these factors.”
This isn't the first time that Black student-athletes have been forced to cut their hair during competition.
In December 2018 then-16-year-old Andrew Johnson, a wrestler for Buena High School, was presented with a choice by referee Alan Maloney: he could either forfeit his match, or cut his hair. Johnson’s coaches protested the decision, but ultimately Johnson allowed his hair to be cut by an athletic trainer. Video of that incident went viral. The New Jersey Attorney General’s office and the Division on Civil Rights has since announced new statewide guidance on hairstyle discrimination.