Je’Nan Hayes is a basketball player at Watkins Mill high school in Maryland, and was recently forced to sit out a game, after being told that she was not allowed to participate because she wears a hijab. Je’Nan has played in the first 24 games of the season without anyone informing her or her coach about a rarely enforced rule which states that “documented evidence” is to be provided when a player wishes to cover their head for religious reasons.
“I felt discriminated against and I didn’t feel good at all,” says Je’Nan. “If it was some reason like my shirt wasn’t the right color or whatever, then I’d be like, ‘okay.’ But because of my religion it took it to a whole different level, and I just felt that it was not right at all.”
According to the Washington Post, “Everything had felt normal to Hayes — she warmed up with her team, stood for the national anthem and then retreated to the bench — until late in the fourth quarter. Watkins Mill had little chance of coming back and the Wolverines’ reserves, the ones Hayes normally enters the game with, were all on the court. After Oxon Hill won, 51-36, Adams pulled Hayes aside. She apologized to Hayes and explained she did not play because of her hijab. Hayes immediately broke down in tears.”
School administrators disagree with the decision to not let Je’Nan play. “The officials of the game there took a strict interpretation of the rule, instead of the spirit of the rule,” says Andy Warner, executive director of MPSSAA, Maryland’s governing body for high school athletics.
As for Je’Nan, she’s taking the setback as a teachable moment (to herself!). “I just want to be an advocate for boys or girls, anybody who is trying out for a sport and has a religion and they feel like their faith can interfere with the way they play sports… It shouldn’t be that way. And because of rules like these, I feel like it makes people scared or turn away from sports, and I don’t want that to happen to anybody else in the future.”