A basketball player from Maryland, Je’Nan Hayes of Watkins Mill High School, showed up to her school’s regional finals game wearing her hijab, the traditional Muslim headgear worn by women, and was disqualified from playing in the game.
Officials told Hayes she could not participate in the game because she had not signed a waiver, stipulating that she wore the hijab for religious reasons.
According to the Washington Post, officials cited a rule in the NFHS rulebook which disallows player from wearing “decorations and headwear,” during a game unless it meets specific requirements. However, there is a religious exemption under the rule for headgear associated with certain faiths which requires a signed waiver, which Hayes did not have.
Hayes told the Washington Post, “I felt discriminated against and I didn’t feel good at all. 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.”
Hayes is not alone in believing that she faced discriminated in this instance due to her faith. The Washington Post states, “Hayes, a junior in her first season playing organized basketball, was not allowed to play because she wears a hijab as part of her Muslim faith.”
The opening lines in this article from The Comeback, also makes that claim: “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. Why? Because she was wearing a hijab.”
However, no rule exists preventing someone from wearing a hijab to a high school basketball game. The rule clearly states that “decorations and headwear,” are barred, but makes no specific reference to a hijab. On the contrary, there’s an exemption which allows for religious headwear.
The rule states: “For religious reasons — In the event there is documented evidence provided to the state association that a participant may not expose his/her uncovered head, the state association may approve a covering or wrap which is not abrasive, hard or dangerous to any other player and which is attached in such a way it is highly unlikely it will come off during play.”
One cannot simultaneously claim that a player’s religion led to their disqualification while the rules specifically make allowances for a player’s religion. So, the mere presence of the hijab, or her status as a Muslim, did not account for Hayes’ disqualification.
What got her disqualified was not having the required waiver that allowed her to wear the headgear, a waiver which serves to prevent the unmanageable, yet entirely foreseeable, problem of prankster high school kids of all religious and non-religious backgrounds showing up to games in all manner of insane headwear, claiming that such headgear represents their “faith.”
So, the rule is not anti-Muslim, or discriminatory in the harshest sense of the word. And the officials were entirely correct in their reading of the rule. However, that doesn’t mean the situation could not have been handled differently.
The hijab is a universally recognized piece of headwear associated with the Muslim faith. Had Hayes shown with tin-foil on her head, then you’re obviously dealing with a non-religious prank. However, there’s no mistaking the obvious religious association when someone wears a hijab.
Secondly, Hayes had already worn the hijab in 24 games that year with no problem. To enforce that rule when the player has already nearly played an entire season without so much as a warning is probably a bad call.
What should they have done?
The officials should have issued the warning and allowed Hayes to play, while stipulating that unless she has the waiver, she won’t be allowed to play.
However, contrary to what the Washington Post and others would have you believe, Hayes was not disqualified for playing basketball while Muslim. She was disqualified for not following the rules.
Follow Dylan Gwinn on Twitter: @themightygwinn