Is the Shawnee Mission Basketball Coach Haircut Policy a Violation?


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No one on the 2013 Shawnee Mission South Championship basketball team had dreadlocks, cornrows, or twists, all of the hairstyles associated with African American or Hispanic culture.

No one on the 2013 Shawnee Mission South Championship basketball team had dreadlocks, cornrows, or twists, all of the hairstyles associated with African American or Hispanic culture.

Thief basketball

Shawnee Mission South High School boys’ basketball head coach Brett McFall says a player’s hairstyle had no bearing on a prospect’s chances of making the team. But one of the veteran coach’s expectations, spelled out in black and white, questioned the claim that everyone competed on an equal footing.

“Every athlete will maintain a neat, well-trimmed hairstyle,” a long-standing team rule said. What defines neat and well cut, Coach?

McFall is pretty good at X’s and O’s – the Raiders won the 2013 Kansas State Class 5 title with an unbeaten record (25-0). He also learns quickly. The team rule requiring a well-groomed headdress was repealed on Tuesday after the Kansas City Star editorial board questioned subjective politics, which could inadvertently leave minority student-athletes unfairly on the sidelines.

The edict was implicitly, explicitly and culturally biased. He also potentially violated a Shawnee Mission School Board policy that prohibits discrimination based on hairstyles.

The Shawnee Mission South head coach apparently needs more diversity training than the refresher course district employees have to take each year.

The subject had never been discussed one-on-one with a player for over a dozen years, McFall said. So why have the rule in place? McFall cited the 2013 team as an example that he never instituted a hair ban.

A picture of the championship team hangs inside the school gymnasium. It features players of all races, but none have dreadlocks, cornrows, or twists, all of the hair styles associated with African American or Hispanic culture.

A grooming policy may be necessary for safety reasons. Arbitrary rules should never be exclusive or discriminatory against a group of people.

We may never know how many students at Shawnee Mission South interested in basketball have been denied a healthy dose to make the team. California and New York made these acts illegal with the passage of the CROWN Act, anti-discrimination legislation that protects the hairstyle choices of K-12 employees and students in every state.

The law prohibits discriminatory behavior because of a person’s favorite hairstyles such as braids, dreadlocks, Afros, twists, and cornrows. Blacks and other minorities often bear the brunt of these outdated policies. Similar legislation was considered in the last session of the Kansas legislature, but was ultimately blocked.

Jesse Washington, editor of The Undefeated, commented on the racist overtones inherent in athlete preparation requirements in a 2019 article.

“There is a long history of whites trying to legislate and regulate the gravity-defying, shape-changing glory of black hair,” Washington wrote. “Whites may think their period is neutral, but it comes from a mindset that, consciously or not, defines white hair as normal and black hair as deviant.”

Washington continued, “Black hair needs to be checked, conformed or cut. Its mere existence is often viewed as illegal, from a North Carolina pool banning swimmers with (dreadlocks) to a Texas high school coloring in the part of a boy with a Sharpie.

Grooming restrictions have historically been used to prevent young minorities from accessing opportunities offered to their white counterparts in sports, employment, and other areas of life. Left to interpretation, McFall’s politics could have left a child without a buzz without a team.

And that doesn’t follow the rules.

This story was originally published November 10, 2021 5:00 a.m.

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