A North Carolina high school softball player was forced to cut her hair beads during a game last month, sparking outrage.
Nicole Pyles, who is Black, was playing for Hillside High School in Durham when she was told she wouldn’t be able to play with the beads in her hair. She had her teammates cut the beads out of her hair instead of sitting on the bench for the game, according to USA Today.
The 16-year-old recounted the incident in an interview with the Raleigh News & Observer on Wednesday.
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“It was humiliating. 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,” Pyles told the newspaper.
According to The News & Observer, the incident sparked an investigation by the Durham Public Schools into the so-called “culturally biased” rules in high school athletics in North Carolina. The rules in the state prohibit players from wearing plastic visors, bandannas and hair beads. The paper reported that the home plate umpire was Black and the base umpire was White.
Pyles said she had played in games with the hair beads in before the commotion.
“I was upset. He had seen me play multiple times,” she said of the base umpire. “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?”
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North Carolina High School Athletic Association Commissioner Que Tucker told WRAL-TV the rule about the beads isn’t new.
“This is not a new rule, and when the violation was noticed by an umpire, the proper determination of illegal equipment was verified,” Tucker said.
Pyles told The News & Observer she believes the hair beads rule discriminates against Black athletes.
“Ask yourself, who else wears beads? Who else wears things that hang off braids in your hair? Only Black girls,” she said.
Tucker told WRAL-TV some of the blame should be put on the coaches.
“We empathize with the student athlete and her experience,” Tucker said. “It is truly unfortunate, as we believe this situation should never have occurred. The NCHSAA expectation is that coaches will know the playing rules and ensure that their players are also aware of them before participating in any athletic contest.”
Durham Public Schools said in a statement it supported Pyles and believes the rule should be changed.
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“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 school system said in a Facebook statement. “We support our student, Nicole Pyles, and believe this rule should be amended.”