Black New Jersey Teen Banned From Playing In Basketball Game Over Hair, Despite State's CROWN Act

The girl tied her hair up three times but was still refused entry into the game by referees.

A Black girl in New Jersey was forced from her varsity high school game because of her hairstyle despite the CROWN Act being the law in the state.

Local New York City news website Gothamist that the incident took place in the Maplewood-South Orange School District. The teenager was banned from playing because she had beads in her hair.  Critics say the official's decision to prohibit the her from participating in the game was a violation of the state’s anti-discrimination law.

In a statement issued on Monday (Jan. 8), Acting Superintendent Kevin F. Gilbert expressed his exasperation with the incident.

“I was shocked when I learned that one of our very own student-athletes was subjected to the same discrimination that New Jersey’s CROWN Act was established to prevent,”. Gilbert’s statement read. He also filed a racial bias complaint with the NJSIAA, the association that enforces rules for high school sports throughout New Jersey.

At the Maplewood basketball game on Jan 4, two referees, who were White, would not allow the player onto the court with beads in her hair at the basketball game in Maplewood, Aaron Breitman, head coach of the Columbia High School varsity basketball team noted. In response to the referees, the players attempted to tie her hair back three times to satisfy the referees.

“The student in question was clearly upset. She was embarrassed and the rest of the team was very confused,” Breitman said. “And in all honesty, it took away from the first quarter of the game. We started off very slow because the game was no longer our focus. “

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By the second quarter, the girl was finally allowed to enter after Columbia coaches pointed out to the referees that “beads and other hard objects are allowed in their hair so long as they’re secured” per the rules of the National Federation of State High School Associations.

The identity of the referees had not been revealed.

Christopher Conklin, the superintendent of the Caldwell-West Caldwell School District, noted that he would not comment on current investigations.

“However, our staff is fully cooperating with the NJSIAA’s investigation into the complaint made by the [Maplewood-South Orange School District],” Conklin wrote in an email.

Although the Senate Republicans blocked the passage of the CROWN Act as a federal law in 2022, New Jersey Gov. Phi Murphy signed the legislation in 2019 “banning discrimination based on hairstyles associated with race.”

"Race-based discrimination will not be tolerated in the State of New Jersey," Murphy wrote in a statement. "No one should be made to feel uncomfortable or be discriminated against because of their natural hair. I am proud to sign this law in order to help ensure that all New Jersey residents can go to work, school, or participate in athletic events with dignity." 

Gilbert lauded the NJSIAA for moving with haste to respond to the complaint

“We look forward to the outcome of this investigation and hope this moves everyone toward valuing the intent and purpose of the rule changes governing high school sports competition and New Jersey’s CROWN Act,” Gilbert said.

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