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Professor Abrams Urges Youth Leagues to Respect Players’ Cultural, Ethnic and Religious Identities

February 19th, 2016

Doug Abrams

When the Flagstaff (Ariz.) High School Eagles girls’ basketball team faced Greenway High School earlier this month, the Eagles players wore their hair in traditional Navajo buns during pregame warmup. Flagstaff is near the Navajo reservation, a sizeable percentage of the Flagstaff High student body are from the tribe and the girls wore the buns to honor their heritage. Before tipoff, the referee prohibited the buns as a potential safety hazard because they were done with yarn.

The Arizona Interscholastic Association, which administers the state’s high school sports, apologized afterwards and announced that players may wear Navajo buns in future games. The association has promised to continue exploring issues related to cultural sensitivity.

Professor Doug Abrams writes about the Flagstaff incident, and about earlier incidents elsewhere in which a referee or umpire decided that a youth player, coach or team could not participate while wearing a cultural, ethnic or religious symbol, or while speaking a language other than English.

Professor Abrams’ blog article urges that, to the extent possible, league rules should address reasonably foreseeable sensitive issues that are likely to particularly affect cultural, ethnic or religious minorities. Referee-certification classes and clinics, which generally are already required, should also discuss the role of tolerance when officials administer discretionary on-the-field standards such as safety rules.


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