A young soccer player was sidelined during a game in Bucks County last weekend after a referee ruled the beads in her hair posed a danger to other players, says his trainer.
The referee sent off sixth grader Hasiyanah Shannon Wilson – nicknamed “Sassy” – while she was playing in a Youth Inter-County Football League game, said Wilson’s Kensington Soccer Club coach Carly Najera.
The referee told Wilson she could only continue playing if she cut the beads, even if they were secure, Najera said, then yelled at Najera when the coach asked for the ruling.
“If there are rules in place that are old and that exclude some children,” Najera said, “I think football organizations should want to be more inclusive, not less.”
She said she didn’t believe Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer, the association that oversees the travel league, was “a racist organization”, but said its rules should be changed so it doesn’t happen to a another child.
Wilson and Najera, who had driven an hour from Kensington to play the game at Perkasie, arrived just as it was starting, Najera said. But within 30 seconds of Wilson entering the field, the referee sent off the 11-year-old, who is black, because her hair beads were considered prohibited jewelry.
Hair beads, an important part of black style and culture, have been the focus of some controversies in youth and high school sports across the country, with rules ostensibly on the athlete security now widely regarded as discrimination against athletes of color.
The New York State Public High School Athletic Association this week lifted his ruler ban student-athletes from wearing hair beads during competitions after 30 school principals asked him to do it. Superintendents said the rule was discriminatory. A the video also went viral this week teammates and opponents of a high school powerlifter working together to help her remove her hair beads so she won’t be disqualified from Mississippi state championships.
In 2018, a South Jersey high school wrestler had his dreadlocks cut during a match after a referee told him he would have to forfeit if he didn’t.
The The US House of Representatives passed the CROWN Act last monthwhich prohibits race-based hair discrimination in employment and federal programs. New Jersey did it in 2019while some Pennsylvania lawmakers are pushing for a CROWN law to be passed in the Commonwealth.
In Bucks County, Najera said she and Wilson were “surprised that in 2022” anyone would challenge pearls, especially when they were safely secured.
“It’s culturally appropriate for someone to have pearls in their hair, and, if it’s not a danger to someone else, why would it matter?” Najera said.
Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer did not respond to requests for comment from The Inquirer.
In a statement to 6ABCthe association said the referee remains active while the incident is investigated.
“Referees are required to follow FIFA regulations and according to these regulations, the referee’s decision was in accordance with the laws of the game,” the association told the network. “That being said, while the referee may have acted appropriately in accordance with the laws of the game, as far as the coach’s narrative is concerned, his response and demeanor was not.”
Najera was not coaching Wilson on Sunday (the game was for another team), she said, but drove Wilson to the game and planned to watch her play.
Instead, Najera said, she saw Wilson cry behind the team bench, something she hadn’t seen Wilson do in five years coaching her.
“I really didn’t like the way the ref was acting because he was pointing at me,” Wilson says 6ABC.
Wilson’s beads were slipped into his uniform, Najera said, and posed no danger to anyone. They told the referee they would secure them in a different way if necessary, Najera said, but he said the only solution was to cut the beads.
Najera approached the referee at half-time, she said, and asked, “Are you really going to deny this child this opportunity?”
He yelled at Najera, she said, and refused to let Wilson play. In the past, Najera said, referees have let Wilson play with beads, which Wilson doesn’t always wear, but in this case it was done for Easter.
Wilson “felt embarrassed because she was the only black child,” Najera said. “But she came out of there with her head held high.”
On the way home, the couple discussed what had happened, Najera said, and the coach told Wilson she was supportive.
“I asked him, ‘Do you want me to pursue this?’ Najera said. “She asked me to follow up and make sure this doesn’t happen to everyone.”
Wilson’s mother also asked Najera to spread the word about what happened.
In the days that followed, local support lifted Wilson, who his coach called an “incredible” footballer.
“She’s hoping there will be change,” Najera said, “so it doesn’t happen to anyone else.”