beads, CROWN act, basketball player, teen, New Jersey

CROWN Act Violation? New Jersey Basketball Refs Bench Teen Over Hair Beads

The Black athlete's coach said the referees "embarrassed" the player about her hair beads.

New Jersey referees allegedly violated the state’s CROWN Act after they barred a Black high school basketball player from competing because of her hair beads. 

An alleged discriminatory incident unfolded on Jan. 4 during the match between Columbia High School and West Caldwell’s James Caldwell High School. The NFHS Network shared that before the game, two white referees prevented an unnamed Columbia player from participating due to the presence of beads in her hair. Gothamist reported that this decision led to confusion and frustration as the teenager and her teammates struggled unsuccessfully to meet the referees’ demands.

Columbia High School head coach Aaron Breitman said, “She was clearly upset. She was embarrassed and the team very confused.” He noted it “took away focus” and momentum that first quarter. To allow the player to participate in the next quarter, Columbia coaches cited proper rules that stated secured hair beads were permitted. 

Upon learning of the racial discrimination against his student, Columbia’s Acting Superintendent Kevin F. Gilbert proclaimed: “I was shocked…she was subjected to the very discrimination that New Jersey’s CROWN Act aimed to prevent.” Gilbert filed a racial bias complaint on Jan. 8 with the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association overseeing conduct standards. The association, which sets the rules for high school athletics in New Jersey, confirmed receiving the complaint and reviewing the incident after published rules clarified hair beads are broadly allowed.

“We look forward to the outcome 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 stated in reference to the Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair Act that was signed by Gov. Phil Murphy in 2019. New Jersey’s CROWN Act takes decisive action against race-based discrimination by expressly prohibiting prejudice that targets traits “historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture, hair type and protective hairstyles.”

West Caldwell leaders declined to comment per policy on pending investigations; however, a statement from the Caldwell-West Caldwell School District’s superintendent, Christopher Conklin, did promise staff cooperation with the ongoing probe.

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