A Black teen softball player from Durham, North Carolina, says she was humiliated at a game last month in an incident she says led to a discriminatory ask and an impromptu haircut. In an interview with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice cited by the New York Times, 16-year-old Nicole Pyles says she was playing in the April 19 game for Hillside High when she was asked by umpires—one white, one Black, per the News & Observer—who were strictly adhering to National Federation of State High School Associations rules to remove her hair beads or sit out the rest of the game. The beads were tightly attached, so Nicole opted to have her teammates cut her hair so she could keep playing. "Does anyone have scissors?" could be heard on a Facebook Live stream during the incident. "It was humiliating," Nicole Pyles tells the News & Observer. "Why do I have to take away from myself just to play this game. ... I'm embarrassed."
The NFHS rules note that, while softball players can wear hair clips, barrettes, or bobby pins, they're not permitted to sport bandannas, plastic visors, or hair beads. In a statement, Durham Public Schools says a probe by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association found the umpires acted on their own, although Nicole tells the SCSJ a white coach from the opposing team had initially complained that her hair was covering the number on her jersey. However, the district, which in January approved a nondiscrimination policy on hairstyles, is supporting Nicole and pushing for an NFHS rule change. "DPS supports our student-athletes and their right to self-expression in a manner befitting their culture," the district says. "We believe the blanket ban on hair beads is culturally biased and problematic." Nicole, who says she'd played previous games with her beads in, also wants the rule amended, telling the News & Observer the incident "hurt me, hurt my family, [and] embarrassed my teammates." (More discrimination stories.)