Je'Nan Hayes was banned from playing for the Watkins Mill High School girls basketball team at a regional finals game against Oxon Hill High School in Maryland on March 3 because of her Muslim hijab.
"I felt discriminated against and I didn’t feel good at all," Je'Nan told The Washington Post. "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."
Je'Nan had worn the traditional Muslim garb on her head all season, but a referee at the game told Watkins Mill coach Donita Adams there had to be "documented evidence" to wear the head covering for religious reasons.
Muslim women have worn hijabs, per their Islamic faith, for centuries.
The National Federation of State High School Associations rule book bans "decorations and headwear," but allows the religious exception:
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.
Adams and Watkins Mill Athletic Director Reggie Spears tried to get the official's decision reversed, but could not. Adams decided not to tell Je'Nan until the end of the game.
Je'Nan sat on the bench the entire game, which was won by Oxon Hill, 51 to 36.
Adams apologized to Je'Nan, told her about the hijab ban, and Je'Nan began crying.
Andy Warner, executive director of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA), disagreed with keeping the Muslim girl out of the game:
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?
According to Warner, the MPSSAA would have given Je'Nan's hijab a waiver. He said the referees should have allowed her to play.
Earl Hawkins, the athletic director of Prince George’s County, added: "Everybody has apologized and [has an] understanding that, if the situation happens again, we’ll deal with it in better fashion, much better fashion."
Dr. Zainab Chaudry, the outreach manager for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Maryland, issued a statement in a March 13 press release: "There is obviously a need to update the existing policy so that athletes of all backgrounds may practice their faith without such unfortunate incidents occurring. Athletic officials should also undergo diversity training to ensure that they are aware of the religious needs of a diverse student population."