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Accommodations for Female Muslim Athletes:

I've written before about Muslim requests for religious exemptions from generally applicable rules — chiefly to point out how similar these often are to non-Muslim requests for such exemptions, and to argue that we shouldn't get particularly exercised about them (though neither should we categorically accept them, any more than we should accept such requests from Christians, Jews, or others).

Reader Stephen St. Clair pointed me to the latest such request in the news (from the Washington Post):

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....

Now there is some controversy about whether the officials' objection was simply to the uniform's not being suitably single-colored, or to the uniform's covering the head. If the track and field organization only wants to impose color rules, to which to my knowledge Kelly and other Muslims wouldn't object, then there'd be no problem with that in general. I do think it was needlessly cruel to bar the girl from running in this event, based on what sounded like an honest mistake; it's not like her violation of the color rules would give her some unfair advantage over other runners. Still, insisting on compliance with such rules for the future wouldn't be at all objectionable.

But if an organization does insist on enforcing some rule (if there is one) against head coverings, that strikes me as wrong — likely not illegal or unconstitutional (unless it's motivated by hostility to Muslims, which I doubt), but needlessly harmful to young athletes. Just as male Orthodox Jews' desires to wear head coverings should be accommodated even in the face of otherwise uniform restrictions on athlete headgear (assuming there's no safety problem caused by the head coverings, for instance if they are sufficiently securely attached), and just as Sikh men's desires to wear turbans should be accommodated, so should Muslim women's desires to wear headgear and long pants.

Here's the basic problem: There are some restrictions that are of only modest importance to the government (or an educational organization or an employer or others), but are implemented because they impose only a slight burden on the average person. Yet for people in some religious groups, they impose a much greater individually felt burden, which is why they ask for an exemption.

Our society has a long, honorable, and generally highly beneficial (though not perfectly adhered to) tradition of accommodating a wide range of religious beliefs — of trying to make sure that people can have, whenever reasonably possible, all the rights and opportunities available to other members of American society without having to give up their religious views. This dates back over 200 years, with exemptions from oath requirements for Quakers and other groups, exemptions from military service for pacifist religious sects, and a wide range of other kinds of exemptions from otherwise generally applicable laws.

This doesn't mean we accommodate every request, no matter how burdensome to others. If an exemption would somehow hurt others, or substantially increase the burden on others, that will often be a good reason to deny the request. (Exemptions from military service, for instance, are understandably controversial on this score, and have always been limited in some measure.) It may even be proper to deny the exemption if the exemption would risk substantially hurting the exempted person; the organization involved might not want to be a party to such possible accidents. If there was reason to think that any garment required by the Muslim girl would either seriously risk heatstroke or tripping, or unacceptably cut off her peripheral vision so she would stumble or run into others, that might be reason to reject the request.

But I see no reason why there would be such an inherent danger here (at least if the garment is properly designed). And when an exemption is very cheap for the organization, and the main barrier is just an insistence on following the rule — a rule usually made without any real consideration of the stark burden it imposes on some religious observers — relaxing the rule strikes me as the right thing to do.

Again, this is not necessarily a legal obligation (employers are generally required to accommodate religiously objecting employees when doing so is very cheap, but other institutions usually aren't) and certainly not a constitutional one: the organization involved here may well be a nongovernmental one and thus not bound by the constitutional religious freedom provisions, and in any case it's likely that the constitutional provisions don't mandate exemptions in these sorts of cases even when the rule is government-made. But I do think that granting an exemption from a no-headgear policy would be the right thing to do, especially for an organization that is aimed at trying to encourage young athletes.

Finally, I realize that some might specifically object to Muslim head covering claims, on the pragmatic grounds that such coverings tend to reinforce the subjugation of women, and are therefore potentially harmful to society. I don't think that's generally a good enough reason to reject an exemption request; but here it strikes me as particular counterproductive.

Here is a Muslim girl who is engaging in an activity that is far from stereotypically feminine or subjugated. If she succeeds, and other devout Muslims girls follow her example and become more involved in sports and in competition, I think this help those girls, and incidentally help them undermine whatever norms of female subservience might exist in their communities. Conversely, if devout Muslim girl are excluded from such activities, I doubt they're likely to just set aside their head coverings and become good gender-egalitarian secularists (or Muslim reformers); rather, most of them are likely to retreat into more traditional pursuits. Religious accommodation thus strikes me as the practically wise thing to do, as well as the kind thing for the girls who seek the accommodation.

John425:
Is the National Federation of State High School Associations a private, non-profit group? If so, can't they set their own rules?
1.17.2008 6:42pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
John425: They can -- and I can criticize them for it.
1.17.2008 6:45pm
Dave N (mail):
I agree completely with your post. If there was some claim that this young woman's uniform gave her an unfair advantage, that would be one thing (though I am not sure how, since she wore the prescribed runner's outfit over her unitard). Since the unitard probably puts her at some minor disadvantage--if for no other reason than it makes it more difficult for her body to sweat--I see no harm and certainly no foul in allowing her wear it.
1.17.2008 6:46pm
Pol Mordreth (mail):
Well, if you read the article, there is no indication that she wasn't allowed to wear it because it is a unitard. She wasn't allowed to wear it because it didn't meet the uniform color rules. And from the picture, I can understand it. I understand her frustration, but cmon, if you are going to go to an invitaional sporting event and compete, shouldn't you abide by the rules?

Respectfully,
Pol
1.17.2008 6:50pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
cmon, if you are going to go to an invitaional sporting event and compete, shouldn't you abide by the rules?
According to the article, she's worn it before -- in this very event -- without trouble. So why should she have assumed that this year they'd change the rules, or at least change the enforcement thereof?

And while generally speaking, one should abide by rules, isn't a better question whether one should enforce petty rules? Obviously if it gave her an advantage, it would make sense to enforce the rule. But if it doesn't, why do so, other than to be petty?
1.17.2008 6:56pm
Anon Y. Mous:
I mostly agree, but with a caveat: the rules should be changed not in a way that creates an exception for Muslims, but rather in a way that allows the unitard to any participant who wants to wear it. I see no reason to have special rules for special people.
1.17.2008 6:59pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Pol: Here's the part of the article that suggests there might be a no head covering rule:
"First, they said she had to take her hood off," Sarah Kelly [the girl's mother] said. "Then, they said she can't have anything with logos displayed. Then, they said she had to turn it inside out. When I told them that there weren't any logos on it, they said she had to put a plain white T-shirt on over it."

Bowden [the coach] said: "It never started off about color [of her uniform]. It started with her head wear...."


So it might be that they just care about the color, period -- but there's some suggestion that they might also view the uniform rules as barring head coverings.
1.17.2008 6:59pm
Track Official:
I am a USATF-certified track and field official and have officiated at National Federation of High Schools (NFHS) meets, whose rules governed the meet in question.

It is possible to compete legally with a head covering in NFHS meets. The issue is not that the head was covered, but rather that the visible undergarment (which included the head covering) was not of a single color. It is the coaches' responsibility to be familiar with the rules and prepare their athletes to comply.

By the way, there is a "no jewelry" rule, and that rule has a religious exemption.

Eugene wrote: "And when an exemption is very cheap for the organization ... relaxing the rule strikes me as the right thing to do."

I think it is unwise to give on-the-ground officials too much discretion in enforcement. If the rule is a poor one, there is a process for proposing rules changes at the national level. The rationale behind many of the rules in track and field are not apparent to the casual observer, or even, at times, the officials themselves. In any event, it is just this attitude of relaxation that caused problems here. Some officials in earlier, low-key, unrelated meets apparently gave her uniform a pass -- and that left her unprepared for an objection at an elite meet when the stakes were high.
1.17.2008 7:00pm
Pol Mordreth (mail):
I read that too, EV, but it strikes me as the girls coach and her mother trying to start something. It's a he said - she said set of statements. For example,

Rogers said he knew Kelly was wearing the uniform for religious reasons and that he offered her several options to conform to the rules of the meet while still respecting her faith, including placing a plain T-shirt over her unitard and then wearing her team uniform over it.

"Every sport has uniform rules. It has nothing to do with religious discrimination," Rogers said. "They were provided with several options that would have allowed her to run without taking off her head covering."



So the only "suggestion" that there is a problem with the head coverings comes from someone with an ax to grind. Why does one side of this dispute get more credibility than the other, with no other evidence either way? It seems to me that, while on one hand there might be religious discrimination going on, it is just as likely that the mother knows that she gets more credibility if she alleges discrimination. As for the coach, he wasn't there for the discussion between the meet officials and the mother, so whatever he says should be taken with a grain of salt.

Rogers said he made three public address announcements prior to Kelly's disqualification requesting that Roosevelt Coach Tony Bowden meet with him. Bowden said he didn't hear any announcements.


Respectfully,
Pol
1.17.2008 7:10pm
Jiffy:
Track Official:

I get the problem of allowing on-the-ground officials too much discretion over enforcement. Would there have been a problem with allowing her to run then having higher-level officials decide whether she should be disqualified?
1.17.2008 7:13pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Pol: I don't know who's right on the facts; that's why I framed it as "if [X] then ...; if [not X] then ...." (I spent more time on the second half just because it raises a more interesting issue.)
1.17.2008 7:14pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):


Is the National Federation of State High School Associations a private, non-profit group? If so, can't they set their own rules?

They can -- and I can criticize them for it.


Isn't this a little more complicated? "private" organizations such as this often have a quasi-state function and are therefore subject to constitutional restrictions on state action. Little League Baseball, for example, is truly a private organization as it has nothing to do with the school system. An organization that controls the participation of public schools in a sport is one that has been delegated a state function.
1.17.2008 7:22pm
Track Official:
"Would there have been a problem with allowing her to run then having higher-level officials decide whether she should be disqualified?"

Although it is not always apparent to the observer, the presence of additional competitors can affect the performance of other competitors -- even in field events such as Pole Vault which are contested sequentially. For this reason, the solution you propose is employed only in circumstances of doubt. In this case, she was in clear violation of the rules before the event was even contested.
1.17.2008 7:25pm
nevins (mail):
There was a longstanding dress code that was created without the intention of deliberately harming any particular group.
This girl, her coach, and district either were ignorant of the rules of their organization or chose to ignore them without going through proper channels to seek a waiver prior to the inevitable confrontation.
The opposing coach was a poor sport who saw an outstanding athlete beating his team and exercised a rule that had no effect on athlete performance to give his team an edge not based upon quality athleticism.
So many people contributed to the unfortunate situation. Uniforms have specific requirements so that the athlete's appear uniformly dressed, have appropriate safety gear (not sure how that is relevant to this running sport, but could be), and do not gain an unfair advantage (again not sure how it is relevant here, but then every sport has high tech gear). The organization could use this as an opportunity to review it's uniform requirement.
But for this girl, she and her coach chose to break rules rather than go through proper channels so she looses out this season.
1.17.2008 7:45pm
Cactus Jack:
I'm confused -- if the problem with her blue &orange unitard was that it wasn't a single solid color, how does putting a white tee shirt over it, as the rules official suggested, cure the violation?

Irrespective, if the white tee shirt cure was enough to satisfy the rules official, why didn't she take it?

Notwithstanding these points, if the violation was so subtle that the officials failed to catch it last year, it's difficult to understand why it's an issue this year. After all, I suspect that a runner in a full body unitard that covers her head tends to stand out even among 2000 other competitors. Perhaps she was winning too much and a competitor or opposing coach complained.
1.17.2008 7:47pm
Randy R. (mail):
This is indeed interesting. I would suggest that religious freedom extends to my rights as a person. So I want to wear a scarf, and there are no countervailing problems, then I should have that right.

However, if I say that my religious beliefs compel me to fire an employee because he is gay, and that somehow violates my beliefs (because, you know, the Bible clearly says you should fire gay employees and oppose anything that might benefit gay people), then that should be prohibited.
1.17.2008 7:50pm
ChrisO (mail):
The main thing i dislike about these exceptions is that they only are allowed for believers in 1500 yr old weirdness, not people who make up their own weirdness.
1.17.2008 7:53pm
Justthisguy (mail) (www):
The remark about military exceptions reminds me of Lee's apology to his Jewish soldiers in 1864, that he could not allow them to leave the lines to observe Yom Kippur as was the previous practice. He pleaded extremity and necessity as justification for refusing that permission. And felt badly about it.
1.17.2008 8:01pm
Brendan Wright (mail) (www):
I've coached HS athletics numerous times over the years, in addition to competing in three sports in HS. Uniform rules are something we always went over. What colors non-uniform articles can be and - as mentioned - the rules for jewelry (with religious exemption). Whatever the officials actual motivation - once the uniform rule is pointed out - you almost never get out of it. I've had competitors and officials catch my athletes after the fact - which is just a DQ. She is actually lucky the gave her an opportunity to make a change to compete.

http://selfassay.blogspot.com
1.17.2008 8:06pm
Mark Bahner (www):

I understand her frustration, but cmon, if you are going to go to an invitational sporting event and compete, shouldn't you abide by the rules?


I'd be very surprised if she even knew the rule. It's not like when I was soaking baseballs in wat...

Never mind.
1.17.2008 8:31pm
Bender (mail):
Rules about uniforms are important in events like this, where emotions are often inflamed and symbolism can add to the emotional charge of the event. (It's worth noting that the girl's coach has publicly admitted to committing battery on a referee during this incident.) That referees in prior years were ignorant of the rules or lax in enforcing them reflects badly on them. To my mind it does not make the referees who correctly enforced the rules this year somehow blameworthy. The girl's coach -- who sounds like an ignorant thug to me -- is probably the most culpable party: He's supposed to know the rules and set a good example to his charges. He did neither in this case.
1.17.2008 8:39pm
Owen Hutchins (mail):

I'm confused -- if the problem with her blue &orange unitard was that it wasn't a single solid color, how does putting a white tee shirt over it, as the rules official suggested, cure the violation?



Especially as the only parts of the unitard visible with the rest of her school uniform on are the sleeves and legs, I have trouble believing that somehow a white tshirt under the school tshirt would magically make the different-color sleeves go away. The fact that Rogers even said that options were presented that wouldn't require her to remove the head covering makes me inclined to think that that was the issue tyo begin with, and the colors was brought up only later as an excuse.
1.17.2008 8:40pm
Mark Bahner (www):

Notwithstanding these points, if the violation was so subtle that the officials failed to catch it last year, it's difficult to understand why it's an issue this year.


Because she wasn't the fastest girl on the field last year.
1.17.2008 8:44pm
Visitor Again:
I don't get these color rules, which seem ridiculous to me. Runners competing on the international level always have worn multi-colored uniforms. Why things should be different for high school athletes is not apparent. Of course we live in a society where it is considered appropriate for school authorities to tell children they cannot wear certain items of clothing to school even though the restrictions have nothing to do with gang colors or the sexually provocative.

The Wimbledon tennis tournament used to have a single color rule if memory serves. The sport did not collapse when things changed, although the officials who ran the tournament were the sort to got outraged when Gussie Moran wore a pair of fancy lace panties under her tennis skirt.

This case exhibits the tendency of officials to be officious, to exercise power if they have it. Surely the wiser course is to make reasonable accommodations for Muslims (or persons of any religion) so that they may compete. I would say that's a no brainer in today's climate. This is a case of enforcement of a rule for the sake of enforcing a rule.

The absence of discretion--the uniform enforcement of general rules no matter what--does not always prevent discrimination; sometimes it promotes it. Circumstances are everything. This is what is meant by that old saying from Emerson, that a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.
1.17.2008 8:53pm
jimrodgers23:
I think that we have to look at the difference between those who have embraced their faith, through their forbears, for many centuries, and those who have recently come to a religion for personal or political purposes.
1.17.2008 8:58pm
JohnAnnArbor:
Track rules in high school are remarkably strict. No jewelry, everyone has to have identical uniforms (meaning, if one person on a relay team had a white t-shirt below the tank top, all had to), etc. Such rules weren't enforced at NCAA division III meets I saw later, but high school rules were strict and (generally) strictly enforced.
1.17.2008 9:12pm
JohnAnnArbor:
By the way, I have no idea if these rules are nationwide through the National Federation of State High School Associations, or if each state high school association has their own, or if the state ones only can add rules, or whatever. All I knew was that the Michigan High School Athletic Association didn't allow javelin (or hammer throw or triple jump). All in all, considering how close one of my thrown disci came to clocking a JV baseball player, maybe no javelin was a good thing.
1.17.2008 9:16pm
Smokey:
Not trying to be insulting, but no one here seems to get it. When muzzies come here, we're expected to conform to their rules, not the other way around.
1.17.2008 9:21pm
Gulf Coast Bandit (mail):
According to the Washington Post, the girl wore the same uniform at a meet yesterday with no objections.
Link here
1.17.2008 9:28pm
Sean M:
I think, in the end, this says more about the National Federation of State High School Associations than anything else.

(Disclaimer: I am a United States Soccer Federation certified referee and I enjoy laughing at how NFHS mangles soccer rules beyond belief).
1.17.2008 9:32pm
Pol Mordreth (mail):
Gulf Coast Bandit:
So? It was a meet under a different athletic association, with different rules. Also in that article is a sporting - apparel shop that is making her a new, single color unitard (it appears for free) so that she can be in compliance.

Respectfully,
Pol
1.17.2008 10:10pm
Scote (mail):

Mark Bahner (www):
I'd be very surprised if she even knew the rule.

I'd be very, very surprised if she didn't. Competitive ports are about rules. If there are no rules it isn't really a competitive sport.

As someone who was the rather clear exception (i.e., the only one not wearing the standard team uniform) she and her mother would have to be deliberately obtuse not to double check the rules before entering into a high stakes even.

The athlete bears the responsibility not only for their own performance but to know the rules that govern the sport lest they be disqualified for any of a myriad of other reasons.
1.17.2008 10:43pm
Scote (mail):
errata:

"sports"
1.17.2008 11:06pm
Mike Gallo (mail) (www):
I competed in high school soccer, and there were similar uniform rules. The call it a "uniform" because that's what it's supposed to be. If one member of the team brought a white undershirt instead of black one day when it was 40*F outside, then no one could wear any undershirt. You need to know the rules beforehand, and just because she got away with it before (who wants to bet because everyone is so damned PC these days they were afraid to have the Muslims come out and call them bigots?) doesn't mean she should get away with it now.

If she can fit her silly clothing "requirements" into the rulebook, then that's fine. If not, forgive me if that wouldn't exactly tug on my heart strings.
1.17.2008 11:12pm
Houston Lawyer:
Isn't the head covering for women a recent political intrusion into Islam? I believe it is more of a political than a religious accommodation.

We are now an aggressively secular society. Christians and Jews ask for and receive damn few accommodations for their beliefs. Many who urge exceptions for Muslims would scoff at similar exceptions for Christians and Jews.
1.17.2008 11:41pm
Mike G in Corvallis (mail):
If they're going to be that hard-nosed about what they admit is an undergarment, then by God they ought to make all the other competitors prove that they have single-colored undergarments.

White bra and pink undies? Yer outta here, cookie!
1.18.2008 12:24am
Lev:
Moving on to the ridiculous: how do they deal with tan lines?
1.18.2008 12:38am
Greg D (mail):
How much wind resistance does she lose by having a unitard over her hair?

Competitive swimmers shave off all their body hair before big races, because it makes them faster. Does a unitard make her faster?
1.18.2008 12:39am
PJ (mail):
Greg D, the fact that Cathy Freeman is one of the few professional runners I've seen wearing a uniform covering most of her body makes me believe that it really won't make you any faster.

---

I recall a couple of years ago that the international rules for either volleyball or beach volleyball stipulated that the uniforms for female players couldn't cover too much. Since I can't find any about it now I might be wrong though or the rules have changed since.
1.18.2008 1:17am
Waldensian (mail):

I think that we have to look at the difference between those who have embraced their faith, through their forbears, for many centuries, and those who have recently come to a religion for personal or political purposes.

What is the significant difference between these two categories?
1.18.2008 1:20am
j (mail):
1.

Not trying to be insulting, but no one here seems to get it. When muzzies come here, we're expected to conform to their rules, not the other way around.

This woman and her daughter did not come here, they are Americans, indigenous Americans. Unless of course you would like a dose of white guilt, being they are African American they were brought here, they didn't come here. So save the bigotry for your private meetings.

2. @ Houston Lawyer
The injunction of Hijab is mandated by the Quran. Whether a woman chooses to wear it is another issue.

3. About the Meet Official
One rumor is that the official's own daughter was competing in the same heat, there were plenty of scouts out that day, and seeming that the Muslim girl was considered the fastest girl in the heat....
1.18.2008 1:49am
Mike G in Corvallis (mail):
The injunction of Hijab is mandated by the Quran. Whether a woman chooses to wear it is another issue.

Cite? I thought the Quran mandated "modesty."

Hmmm. Would an opaque but skintight leotard provide acceptable modesty?
1.18.2008 3:22am
Visitor Again:
I competed in high school soccer, and there were similar uniform rules. The call it a "uniform" because that's what it's supposed to be.

The need for the same uniform for all players on a soccer team (except the goalkeeper) has no bearing on uniforms in running competitions. Soccer and most other team sports--hockey, basketball and so on-- require the same uniform for all players on a team because it is essential to distinguish one team from another during the competition. That's not the case in a running race in which individuals compete against each other. It is not a true team sport, although the runners from the same school or club or country can help each other by pacing and by taking turns at leading (thus bearing the brunt of wind resistance) and although an artificial points-scoring system is sometimes contrived to make it a team competition of sorts.

By the way, baseball is a team sport, but in the old days, if my memory serves, they played major league all-star games in which the players wore the uniform of their own club so that each team had a variety of uniforms on the field.
1.18.2008 4:51am
kehrsam (mail):

Hmmm. Would an opaque but skintight leotard provide acceptable modesty?


If your daughter were a whore, yes.

More seriously, this is the same as the George Brett pine tar incident. If the unitard was a violation, the opposing coach who objected had the duty of raising the objection as soon as it became clear, rather than saving it for a crucial moment. As the other coaches have allowed it, they should be estopped from raising the issue now.
1.18.2008 8:18am
Prufrock765 (mail):
Along with all (as far as I can tell) of the commenters on here who have played coached and or officiated, I disagree with those who say in effect, "yeah, maybe it's a violation, but let it go".
Certainly her coach knew or should have known the rule. Whether the girl knew or should have known is disputable.
The meet officials did their job. The fact that meet officials in previous contests may have fallen short of their duty is of no consequence.
The coach should have been ready before the meet; he should have gone to the officials and shown them the outfit and gotten a ruling.
In order for the sport to preserve its integrity, the enforcement of the rules has to be, in a word, uniform.

All the discussion about traditions of accomodation have nothing to do with this episode, but are, instead, issues that should be presented to the legislative body.
1.18.2008 9:14am
Serendipity:
I wholly agree with the posters who have said that special provisions should not be made for "special people," unless they are made for all. What if I wanted to wear a unitard, not because the Quran told me so, but because I sincerely believed that it made me look incredibly sexy and it was my deeply held belief that I only ran well when I looked sexy? I don't mean to sound insolent, but I don't see how it is at all "egalitarian," to allow special privileges for superstitions merely because the superstitions have been around for a long time.
1.18.2008 10:08am
Ralph Phelan (mail):
rules for either volleyball or beach volleyball stipulated that the uniforms for female players couldn't cover too much
I would guess it's beach volleyball, and that it's because they understand the real reason most men (&some women) enjoy watching it. ;-)
1.18.2008 10:08am
DaveW (mail):
"According to the Washington Post, the girl wore the same uniform at a meet yesterday with no objections."

So what? I could care less what one wears in a running race but really don't see the fact that she got away with a violation earlier means she can get away with it everytime. Just because I passed a speedtrap going 15 over and no one pulled me over and then later passed another trap at 10 over and got ticketed doesn't mean I can use the previous non-pulling to argue I shouldn't have gotten ticketed the second time around.
1.18.2008 10:08am
delurking (mail):
Someone please help me out here.

The quoted uniform rule is:
"a single-solid color and unadorned, except for a single school name or insignia no more than 2 1/4 inches."

Look at the pictures in the article. How many of the uniforms in the pictures are a SINGLE color? Is the school name or insignia on those uniforms "no more than 2 1/4 inches"? Was the whole team prevented from running for their uniform violations?

Or, are the pictures from another event or practice where the uniform rules are different? Did the rest of the team get single-color uniforms with small team names on them just for this event, implying that they knew the rules were different?
1.18.2008 10:32am
Westie:
Delurker,
The rule (4-3-1d(1)) applies to visible undergarments, not the uniform itself. That is, the uniform can be multi-colored with a larger logo, but any visible undergarments must be a single, solid color with no more than a small logo. Same rule I had to abide by in high school more than 20 years ago.

"a school name or insignia may be worn on an undergarment providing it is not larger than 2 1/4 square inches with no dimension more than 2 1/4 inches... if more than one visible garment is worn under a uniform top/bottom, all such garments worn under the uniform piece shall be the same, single solid color."
1.18.2008 11:00am
Floridan:
I think this is an unfortunate situation -- seems there's enough "blame" (and ambiguity) to spread around.

However, the rules for sports were not handed down from God; they are pragmatic adaptations to either make the sport more competitive, or to address a perceived problem.

I've been involved in youth sports as an adminstrator and official, and a number of the uniform rules are entirely arbitrary and have nothing to do with the sport itself.

In one high-level league my son participated in the uniform rule was strictly written and enforced because the league sold the uniform -- it was the main source of revenue. That's OK, but I don't think that we should invest all rules with some high-minded origin.

And those competitors who run afoul of the rules should not be judged, automatically, as having committed some moral offense.
1.18.2008 11:12am
Milton (mail):
I've been coaching track and cross country at the HS level for 10 years. The undergarments rule is one of the dumbest rules in all of organized sport. The rule has no real purpose, other than to give the sport more rules and more reasons for officials to bounce 15 year old kids from meets... for wearing the wrong spandex under their shorts or having a t-shirt with a 3 inch Nike logo visible. This rule is a joke.

The federation claims the rule is in place so officials can identify participants from different teams. I've never once seen a competitor identified because of their spandex or stocking cap. It's generally the huge school name on the front of the singlet that identifies the runner.

College, post secondary national and international competition have no such rules, and it seems to work out just fine in those meets.
1.18.2008 11:33am
spider:
Off-topic, but the amazing thing to me is that (according to the photo gallery captions) as Ramadan has happened to be in autumn (i.e. track season) in recent years, she fasts all day before races, and still wins!

That has to be unhealthy for her...
1.18.2008 11:35am
JohnAnnArbor:
Track season is spring, at least in Michigan.
1.18.2008 12:10pm
Track Official:
"The need for the same uniform for all players on a soccer team (except the goalkeeper) has no bearing on uniforms in running competitions."

Not so. In some relays it is necessary for officials to be able to quickly identify which incoming runners belong to which teams so they can quickly assign positions mid-race to the runners who are being handed off to. Announcers want to be able to identify a runner's team from a distance. Officials use a runner's uniform to aid in identifying a violator in their report (for example, lane 2 from Needham). Violations can happen very quickly and a recognizable uniform helps give confidence to the official's call.

There are surely other justifications that don't come to mind. The point is that rules often exist for reasons that are not apparent to outsiders. Of all people, lawyers and their ilk should know this.

The single-color-undergarment rule itself may be poorly conceived and written, but it should be enforced as is until a change has been proposed and approved. If an official is made aware of a uniform violation (for example, by a competitor or coach or parent), he or she is obligated to follow up. Overlooking rule enforcement is a slippery slope that invites charges of favoritism.
1.18.2008 12:28pm
New World Dan (www):
Some leagues are very strict about uniform rules. In most cases that I've seen, the officials will let minor infractions slide unless an opposing coach objects. At which point, I've seen players forced to remove the turtleneck they were wearing underneath their soccer jersey for not meeting spec. In Minnesota with a 30F game time temp. And the other team was awarded a free kick.

So I really don't see this as a case of religious bias, most likely an opposing coach saw an easy way to knock the other team's top runner out of the race. A good coach would have made sure her attire was in compliance. I don't blame the league, however dumb the policy may be. I blame the coaches: one for being a jackass, and one for not paying more attention to the rulebook.
1.18.2008 12:38pm
Milton (mail):
But, Track Official, how do you explain the fact that such rules do not exist outside of high school competition? At the college, national and international level, there is no such rule. In such meets identification of runners would have to occur at a much more rapid pace as the runners from different teams (or countries) are generally much faster and are in much closer contact throughout the race. Yet there is no such rule.

Have you ever identified a runner from a school in a relay competition based on undergarment spandex? I've never once seen it happen. But I have seen numerous relay teams and individuals disqualified after races due their compression shorts. We have a rule that basically disqualifies runners of a relay team for not matching their underwear (compression shorts are underwear).

Rules that don't make sense, that place undue burden on officials and participants, should not be on the books.
1.18.2008 12:47pm
calmom:
Why is it constitutional to favor religious beliefs by giving them exemptions that 'mere' personal beliefs or preferences don't get. For example, court rulings would permit the wearing of jewelry of a religious nature but someone who wanted to wear jewelry she considered a good luck charm or just because she liked the way it looked, would be denied permission to do so.

In this case a non-Muslim girl who wanted to wear the unitard for modesty reasons or to stay warmer or whatever would be denied, but the Muslim girl who can point to some religion-based rule gets an exception.
1.18.2008 12:49pm
Prufrock765 (mail):
calmom
your intuitions are correct and that is why the meet officials were right and why much of the discussion here is idle. Her coach screwed up.
1.18.2008 12:56pm
Andrew J. Lazarus (mail):

Christians and Jews ask for and receive damn few accommodations for their beliefs.
Hey Houston: when was the last time your office was open on Christmas? (When was the last time I was ordered to work on Yom Kippur?) Which religious group was furious when a member was dismissed from the armed forces because of a head covering.

Put brain in gear before operating keyboard.
1.18.2008 12:57pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
However, the rules for sports were not handed down from God

Of course, neither were the rules for covering hair.

Snark aside, though, this comment gets it right:

In some relays it is necessary for officials to be able to quickly identify which incoming runners belong to which teams so they can quickly assign positions mid-race to the runners who are being handed off to. Announcers want to be able to identify a runner's team from a distance.

As someone who has announced track meets with athletes from many schools competing, the differences between two schools with, say, purple and white uniforms can be subtle. The rule ensures that uniforms are indeed uniform and can be distinguished from a distance even from other schools with similar color schemes.

That said, if she is identified to officials at the start of the meet, so that everyone knows what her uniform looks like, there's no real big problem with making an exception to the rule for her. This isn't like the ultra-Orthodox Jews getting a whole state-funded bus line just for them. This is a minor rule and there are ways to make an exception.
1.18.2008 1:23pm
Track Official:
"Have you ever identified a runner from a school in a relay competition based on undergarment spandex?"

I was responding here to commenter Visitor Again, who expressed doubt that uniforms were useful in running events. As I conceded later in my post, the visible undergarments rule may be ill-conceived. However, the answer is not to have on-the-ground officials suspend its enforcement on an ad hoc basis, which foments charges of favoritism and creates other problems (such as encouraging parents and coaches to lobby for non-enforcement for their athlete). Instead, the rule should be reviewed at the national level in accordance with procedures that are in-place for rules changes. There may be excellent reasons to keep this rule as is. Just because you can't think of a rationale for the undergarments rule doesn't mean there isn't one. The rules should be written by expert officials with a lifetime of experience. I would want to know more about the justification for this particular rule before forming an opinion.

Regarding your comment that collegiate and open track survive just fine without such an undergarment rule, this is just one of many differences between rules for high school, collegiate, and open competition. The high school environment is different in many ways; the athletes are generally more inexperienced (as are the officials) and their legal status as minors introduces additional concerns. The argument that rules should be necessarily be identical for all ages and experience levels is weak.
1.18.2008 1:26pm
calmom:
Re: Religious exemptions.

I'd like to sign up to be Amish. They get an exemption from Social Security taxes because they 'don't believe in insurance'. Sounds good to me. Can I be one of those "internet Amish" or the little known sect of "Gen X Amish". I even promise to wear those cute little bonnets and eat lots of shoo-fly pie. Seems like a small trade-off to be free of the Ponzi scheme of Social Security taxes.

Seriously though, is it constitutional for the government to determine who is or is not a religious believer of a certain stripe or who has 'sincerely held religious beliefs'?

Sounds like a real case of the government 'establishing a religion' and violating equal protection in that the government grants a right to a religious group that others don't get.
1.18.2008 1:35pm
Ben P (mail):

Regarding your comment that collegiate and open track survive just fine without such an undergarment rule,


As a former collegiate track athelete, (DIII)I will say that they were very strict about other rules however.

For example there is a very strict rule for field events at least about no jewelry. More than once members of our team were disqualified because they forgot to remove earrings or necklaces before they entered the ring.
1.18.2008 1:37pm
galeH (mail):
Suppose an athlete had a documented medical condition which presented only upon exposure to sunlight. A full body covering worn by this hypothetical athlete prevents harmful symptoms caused by exposure to sunlight. Assume for a moment the garment is in all other respects consistent with all other rules. Also assume the full body covering does not give a performance advantage to the wearer.

The hypothetical athlete is an average to poor performer. Does this change any of the above arguments?

The athlete is a world class performer. Does this change any of the above arguments?

This is just my clumsy way of trying to remove religious customs from this interesting discussion.

Regards to all.

galeH1
1.18.2008 1:38pm
Anon1ms (mail):
"Christians and Jews ask for and receive damn few accommodations for their beliefs."

Why, then, can't I purchase a beer before Noon on Sundays (and only Sundays)?
1.18.2008 1:38pm
Milton (mail):
"The high school environment is different in many ways; the athletes are generally more inexperienced (as are the officials) and their legal status as minors introduces additional concerns."

Such a statement argues for a less restrictive system of rules, not a more restrictive system.

I agree that the refs did the right thing, although it seems from the story that there were egos on both sides that got in the way. Heck, if the coach was that much of a d-bag, the ref should have thrown him out of the meet. Refs, though, can sometimes be extremely difficult. And, to be honest, many refs don't know the rules and aren't well iformed as to updates (as I'm sure you are aware having worked with bad officials).

My problem is not one of rule intrepretation. The rule was intrepreted properly. My problem is that it's a dumb rule. I've been a competitive runner and a coach for a long time. You've been refing for a while, I assume. We're both smart people. If we both can't think of a good reason for the rule, well, then it's a pretty bad rule.

A few years ago, the rule was matching sports bras for relays (sports bras of grey, white or black color). One team did not match at a sectional and they were disqualified. The family of the girls sued, claiming that the rule was unfair for girls as boys do not wear sports bras and, as such, the rule was discriminatory. Facing a lawsuit, our state's sports association caved and allowed the team to run at the state meet. There were people outraged that girls could now wear non-matching sports bras in relays, claiming it would make identifying teams more difficult or whatever. We haven't had a problem that I know of since.

We are arguing about underwear, here. Not uniforms.
1.18.2008 1:48pm
Milton (mail):
"For example there is a very strict rule for field events at least about no jewelry. More than once members of our team were disqualified because they forgot to remove earrings or necklaces before they entered the ring."

But not eye glasses, which can be much more dangerous than an earing. Aren't rules great?
1.18.2008 1:50pm
Gulf Coast Bandit (mail):
Pol and DaveW:
For the record, when I posted that the girl had worn the same uniform at a subsequent meet, I was just providing an update to the story and not attempting to provide an opinion.
That said, the meets were both governed by the same NFHS rules. And I definitely think that if there's a rule violation here, the rules needs to be enforced. But I do think it's a dumb rule.
1.18.2008 2:04pm
Track Official:
"The high school environment is different in many ways; the athletes are generally more inexperienced (as are the officials) and their legal status as minors introduces additional concerns."

"Such a statement argues for a less restrictive system of rules, not a more restrictive system."

But there is not a single system of rules, but rather a set of rules that apply for high school, another for college, and so on.

> If we both can't think of a good reason for the rule, well, then it's a pretty bad rule.

I'm not arguing that it's a good rule. I would simply like to hear the justification before passing judgment. The rule was implemented originally for some reason.

I can say that when I first got involved in track and field, I didn't get some of the rules. For example, shot putters must exit via the back half of the ring. Only when I had been officiating for a while did the rationale occur to me. If you allow athletes to exit the front of the ring, then an athlete who lost balance and stepped outside the ring (and should be fouled) cannot be clearly distinguished from one who were merely exiting after completion of the throw. In additional, exiting the front gives the athlete a way to intentionally foul (and save officials the work of measuring a bad throw). Just one example of a rule whose justification might never occur to spectators and competitors (or even to officials themselves).
1.18.2008 2:11pm
spider:
JohnAnnArbor: You are right about the seasons for sports. I guess she was running a cross-country race in October during Ramadan.
1.18.2008 3:28pm
K Parker (mail):
Anon1ms,

I don't follow--you say your Christian belief that you need to buy beer before noon on Sundays is is not being accomodated???
1.18.2008 4:19pm
Andrew J. Lazarus (mail):

I don't follow--you say your Christian belief that you need to buy beer before noon on Sundays is is not being accomodated???
Of course not. He is saying that certain Christian's desire to have no alcohol sold during the hours for church services is an accommodation to Christians. As indeed it is. In a majority-Christian country, the many accommodations to Christians are so "natural" that certain smug fools think they don't exist. (Hint: Christmas is an ordinary work day in Israel.)
1.18.2008 4:47pm
theobromophile (www):

"a single-solid color and unadorned, except for a single school name or insignia no more than 2 1/4 inches."

Neither my high school track nor cross-country uniforms met that standard. We had black shorts with either a white (track) or red &black (XC) top, and the logos, if memory serves, were approximately four inches high.

If memory serves, the only time that uniformity among team members was required was in relay races. During the colder XC meets, we were all allowed to have our own t-shirts or warm-up pants underneath our clothes.

Now, in my day, the big scandal was about whether or not women could wear the bikini-style shorts used by professional female athletes... my, how times have changed.
1.18.2008 5:16pm
More importantly...:
So there's an express, unambiguious rule that says her unitard would have to be a single, solid color. The runner's unitard had two solid colors. Despite attempts at accomodating the runner, she refused to conform to the rule and was thus booted.

How was this a problematic call, again? If it's a silly rule (they're frequent in sports; see, e.g., the damn uniform color rules for USFA and FIE fencing), then someone can lobby to change it. Until then, know it, conform to it, or get the Hell off the track.
1.18.2008 5:16pm
David W:
It's been a few years, but as I recall the undergarment restrictions were put in place to regulate advertising. Issues related to funding sources, recruitment / exploitation, etc., could all be involved. The people in the best position to answer the question would be HS Athletic Directors or NHFS officials - the refs and coaches have no functional need to understand the inspiration for the rules, only to know what they are (thus, the only ones who would likely know the inspiration are those who were working during the original adoption of the rule).

One of the incidents I remember had to do with shoes for the basketball players. Branding restrictions were such that the only external logo allowed was on the sole - and I'm pretty certain of at least one game where players were swapping shoes to make up for a damaged pair that couldn't be replaced in time (since the shoes weren't part of the offical uniform provided by the school).
1.18.2008 5:17pm
j (mail):
@ Mike G in Corvallis

See Quran 24:31, where modesty and covering are both mandated.
1.18.2008 7:07pm
K Parker (mail):
AJL,

I was making light of his conflation of a majority-pleasing law with the situation of accomodating (or not) a minority view. Sorry it didn't make sense to you.
1.18.2008 7:53pm
Floridan:
I was making light of his conflation of a majority-pleasing law with the situation of accomodating (or not) a minority view. Sorry it didn't make sense to you."

It doesn't make sense to me, either.

I'm not sure that in most communities today the ban on sale of alcoholic beverages before noon is a "majority-pleasing law."

Moreover, even if more than fifty percent of the population favored such a law, so what? What is the basis for it other than a special accommodation to certain Christian churches?

What would be the reaction if Muslims lobbied for a similar law during their Friday services?
1.18.2008 11:42pm
Truth Seeker:
how do you explain the fact that such rules do not exist outside of high school competition

Maybe because high school is a time to learn about rules and consequences.
1.19.2008 12:48am
Milton (mail):
"Maybe because high school is a time to learn about rules and consequences."

Well, then. That makes bad rules OK. We are not talking about uniforms. We are talking about undergarments. Underwear. Remember that. Do you think the national federation should have a rule that allowes a kid to be disqualified because his compression shorts had a 3 inch Nike logo?

"Time to learn about rules and consequences" is justification for all kinds of bad rules.
1.19.2008 11:01am
Andrew J. Lazarus (mail):
K Parker, sorry. Usually I'm good at spotting the hidden <sarcasm> tag but this time, no.
1.19.2008 12:33pm
Truth Seeker:
Do you think the national federation should have a rule that allowes a kid to be disqualified because his compression shorts had a 3 inch Nike logo?

As someone else said maybe there are reasons we aren't aware of. Maybe the Nike logo shows through the whte uinform and they don't want corporate advertising. Maybe full body suits in red and white were given out by COca-Cola as subtle advertising.
1.19.2008 12:42pm
Rich Rostrom (mail):
"Everything but the face and hands"? That's not in the Koran. It's an Arab-cultural practice for the subjugation of women. And this case is not about religious freedom, it's a demand that the non-Moslems make accomodations for ostentatious display of "Islamic" practice.
1.19.2008 2:13pm
Milton (mail):
"As someone else said maybe there are reasons we aren't aware of. Maybe the Nike logo shows through the whte uinform and they don't want corporate advertising. Maybe full body suits in red and white were given out by COca-Cola as subtle advertising."

But that is not the case and is never the case. You cannot recieve payment as an amatuer athlete (even in the form of free uniforms) without having your amatuer status threatened. Look, you can have a huge Nike logo on your shoes, and that isn't a problem.

We're talking about underwear here.
1.19.2008 2:48pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
"Everything but the face and hands"? That's not in the Koran.
Says who? Did someone give Rich Rostrom the power to authoritatively interpret the Koran?
And this case is not about religious freedom, it's a demand that the non-Moslems make accomodations for ostentatious display of "Islamic" practice.
In other words, it's not about religious freedom, but about the freedom of religion.
1.19.2008 4:55pm
nevins (mail):

Off-topic, but the amazing thing to me is that (according to the photo gallery captions) as Ramadan has happened to be in autumn (i.e. track season) in recent years, she fasts all day before races, and still wins!

That has to be unhealthy for her...

Unless she's menstruating, therefore unclean, and does not have to fast because fasting wouldn't count; she does have to do make up time at the end.
1.19.2008 8:03pm
nevins (mail):

"Christians and Jews ask for and receive damn few accommodations for their beliefs."

Why, then, can't I purchase a beer before Noon on Sundays (and only Sundays)?

Accommodation? Hell, I'm a christian and pissed as hell about it. Must be some damned protestant accommodation.
1.19.2008 8:07pm
FRAN:
The NFHS reponded in a press release on Friday ... in it they said, "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." To see the entire press release, go to http://www.nfhs.org and search for nfhs_responds_to_maryland_track.
1.20.2008 1:46pm