Friday, January 25, 2008

Muslim piety and race policy collide *

Juashaunna Kelly, a Theodore Roosevelt High School senior who has the fastest mile and two-mile times of any girls' runner in the District this winter, was disqualified from Saturday's Montgomery Invitational indoor track and field meet after officials said her Muslim clothing violated national competition rules.

Kelly was wearing the same uniform she has worn for the past three seasons while running for Theodore Roosevelt's cross-country and track teams: a custom-made, one-piece blue and orange unitard that covers her head, arms, torso and legs. On top of the unitard, Kelly wore the same orange and blue T-shirt and shorts as her teammates.

The outfit allows her to compete while complying with her Muslim faith, which forbids displaying any skin other than her face and hands.

As one of the other heats was held, two meet officials signaled to Kelly and asked her about her uniform. Meet director Tom Rogers said Kelly's uniform violated rules of the National Federation of State High School Associations, which sanctioned the event, by not being "a single-solid color and unadorned, except for a single school name or insignia no more than 2 1/4 inches."

Rogers then told Kelly she was disqualified. Kelly dropped to her knees and began sobbing.
This story from last week's Washington Post reminds me of those stories we see every now and then about a Christian teen who won't spell on Sunday or a baseball superstar who won't play on Yom Kippur (or Walter Sobchak who doesn't roll on Shabbos).

But this, plainly, is ridiculous. Kelly did not make a conscious decision to sit out a specific game that conflicted with, say, Eid al-Adha. Still, she was disqualified because of a conflict between her religious beliefs and cultural practices and a silly set of rules likely in place to keep high school races looking more like the NFL and less like the NBA.

For a story about how a Muslim football player makes it through the daytime fasting of Ramadan, check out this story I wrote a few years ago for The Sun.

*Check the comments for a little discussion about how I got this story wrong.
She was disqualified because the unitard was multi-colored instead of one color, not because she is Muslim and not because she wore a unitard. It should have been one color


Anonymous said...

Sorry -- you couldn't be more mistaken.

NFHS Responds to Maryland Track Situation
Contact: Becky Oakes
INDIANAPOLIS, IN (January 17, 2008) - Last Saturday, Juashuanna Kelly, a runner on the girls track team at Theodore Roosevelt High School in Washington, D.C., elected not to compete in the Montgomery Invitational indoor track and field meet in Maryland after meet officials advised her that she would need to replace her undergarment because it violated track and field playing rules published by the National Federation of State High School Association (NFHS).
The NFHS issues the following statement regarding this incident:
"The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), the national leadership organization for high school sports and fine arts activities, writes playing rules in 17 sports for boys and girls competition at the high school level, including track and field.
"Rule 4-3-1-d of the NFHS Track and Field and Cross Country Rules Book states that 'Any visible garment(s) worn underneath the uniform top or bottom shall be a single, solid color and unadorned except for 1) a single school name or insignia no more than 2¼ square inches with no dimension more than 2¼ inches and 2) a single, visible manufacturer's logo as per NFHS rules.'
"Using preventive officiating, meet officials at the Montgomery Invitational checked uniforms prior to the events to make sure they complied with NFHS uniform rules. Since Kelly's one-piece undergarment was multi-colored (blue, orange, white), it was in violation of the uniform rules. The meet officials did not disqualify Kelly; they informed her she would have to replace the multi-colored undergarment with a single-colored undergarment, an option which she declined and, thus, did not compete.
"The head covering, which was a part of Kelly's one-piece undergarment, nor the length of the undergarment were in violation of NFHS rules. She could have worn the same style of undergarment, with a head covering, as long as the undergarment was one color throughout the entire piece of clothing. The NFHS track uniform rule was put in place for consistency across the board and for ease in identifying runners at the finish line. Multi-colored undergarments cause greater identification problems for track officials.
"The track uniform is a point of emphasis by the NFHS this year in an effort to have more consistent and widespread enforcement of the rule. Because of her Muslim faith, there were reports that her uniform undergarment was ruled unacceptable on religious grounds. While Kelly's faith requires her to cover all parts of the body except her hands and face, a single-colored undergarment with a hood would have been acceptable both from an NFHS rules standpoint as well as meeting the requirements of her Muslim faith.

Yad Mordechai said...

Fact Check Alert! She was disqualified because the unitard was multi-colored instead of one color, not because she is Muslim and not because she wore a unitard. It should have been one color: Kelly's custom-made, one-piece blue and orange unitard covers her head, arms, torso and legs over which she wears the same orange and blue T-shirt and shorts worn by her teammates. She wasn't disqualified because it provided a competitive advantage but because her top was multicolored rather than solid. See D.C. battle over track star's outfit, Thursday, Jan 24, 2008.

Anonymous said...

Here's an eyewitness account from another site:

The Montgomery invitational meet is a NFHS (National Federation of High Schools)-sanctioned meet. This means that in order for any race results to be valid, the meet must be run according to the rules set up by the NFHS. I invite anyone at this point to please check out this link to view the rule: it can be seen at the end of the row for “Track and Cross Country”.
Simple, right?
The clerk in the bullpen let Ms. Kelly know that her uniform was illegal. IT HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH HER HOOD. IT HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THE FACT THAT SHE WAS MUSLIM. It had to do with the fact that the unitard she wore as an undergarment was visible and was bi-colored, a clear infraction of the NFHS rule. (I keep reading that she has run in this uniform for three or more years without anyone saying anything to her: in an earlier interview she said she got the unitard custom made at the beginning of her junior year. That would be last year (she is a senior this year). If she ran last year in it, she was lucky enough to slip by the officials – at a meet of over 2,000 competitors, not every infraction is caught (just as there were probably infractions this year that slipped through the cracks. If we run a red light and there are no police nearby, we’re lucky. If we get caught doing the same thing the next time, we would be wise not to complain that “last time no one said anything.”)
The Meet Official was contacted by the clerk and verified that in fact the unitard was illegal in this meet. He informed Ms. Kelly that she could put a plain colored tee (hundreds of which were available throughout the arena) over the unitard, and then her uniform singlet, and no problems with disqualification would result. (Incidentally, Ms. Kelly, in an interview on WUSA this evening, said, (and I quote): "They told me that [about the tee shirt] too, but I was already crying, and I just didn't feel like doing anything else after that."
Her coach took matters up with the Meet Official and, when the official wouldn’t back down at the verbal diatribe he was subjected to, Coach Bowden PUNCHED THE MEET OFFICIAL IN THE FACE. It was absolutely NOT a polite shove as he describes in the interview. Police were on the scene and asked if the official wished to press charges. THE OFFICIAL DECLINED, instead choosing to speak further with the coach outside of the arena. At the end of this conversation, the two shook hands. The meet official went back to his duties, assuming things were finished. The coach went directly to the Washington Post reporter covering the meet and began crying religious discrimination.
In the meantime, the Meet Director, Tom Rogers, had been called and arrived on the scene where Ms. Kelly’s mother introduced herself as her mother and assistant coach. Mr. Rogers explained the ruling to the mother no less than four times, but she refused to listen. Mr. Rogers DID NOT make the disqualification ruling – the official had already made it before Tom was even called to the scene of the incident.
If blame must be given to someone (and there has been a lot thrown around carelessly), then here it is: If Ms. Kelly did not choose to “do anything else” at the point of being informed of her options, then it is on her, NOT on the official, the meet director, nor anyone else, that she didn’t race. There was no bigotry or nastiness on anyone’s part except for Ms. Kelly’s coach (who, in my mind should have been arrested and removed from the arena promptly for assaulting an official) and her mother who was bitterly complaining about religiously discrimination so loudly that she wasn’t even willing to listen to any explanations.
This is the truth, so help me God – I was there, I saw it, and I have nothing to gain by giving out this information. I do so with the hope, however that some people who read it might pass it along to the other talkback sites in the name of fairness to everyone involved.

Brad A. Greenberg said...

I hadn't read that the problem was simply that the unitard was multi-colored. I thought it was both the colors AND the head covering.

I'll admit the mistake.

Anonymous said...

A God-fearin' Christian with devilishly good Jewish looks AND the gumption to admit when he's made a mistake ... what more could a lady want?!!! :)

Yad Mordechai said...

Yasher koach!