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Hair Discrimination in High School Athletics

Statement from Assemblyman Benjie E. Wimberly:

I express sincere concern and disappointment regarding the news disqualifying a Columbia High School Girls Basketball player from competition for wearing beads in her hair. This incident reflects how discriminatory practices persist and the undeniable need for equity and inclusion training to be required in each of our District endeavors. 

The CROWN Act was designed to prohibit discriminatory practices recognizing hairstyle and, or texture is often a cultural expression. It is disheartening to learn even with the passing of the act and despite the progress made since the highly publicized case of a New Jersey high school wrestler cut his dreadlocks in 2018, instances of bias and discrimination persist. Dr. Kevin F. Gilbert, Acting Superintendent of the South Orange and Maplewood School District, aptly points out the irony of finding ourselves back in a situation reminiscent of past injustices, despite the legislative measures. Advocacy does not and should not stop with the passing of a Bill into law. The vigilance to eradicate discrimination in all its forms is a shared responsibility. Student-athletes should never be subjected to overt or covert prejudice based on their cultural or ethnic background. The disqualification of a player for hairstyle not only perpetuates microaggressions, stereotypes and reinforces the institution of racism but also sends a damaging message about the value or lack thereof, placed on their individuality.

In light of this regrettable incident, I commend Columbia High School administrators for filing a bias complaint with the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA). It is my hope this incident will be thoroughly investigated. May the athlete who experienced this humiliation be warmly embraced by her teammates, coaching staff, administrators, and teachers in the days ahead. Such incidents should pivot interest and accountability to the unwavering support to be proactive in ensuring our student-athletes can compete in an environment free from discrimination and bias. Together let’s remain steadfast in our commitment to creating a learning and athletic environment that values and respects the diversity of the student experience. With hope that through collaboration, we can learn from this situation and contribute to the creation of a more inclusive future for high school sports in New Jersey.

Accordingly, I have reintroduced bill A-3266, which Directs Commissioner of Education to develop a sensitivity training program for high school athletic directors, coaches, and sports officials of interscholastic athletic sports programs.