MONROE – A young soccer player was benched for wearing beads in her hair, but her mother says for years her hair style was never an issue before.
Aubrey Zvovushe-Ramos is 9 years old and has been playing soccer in the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) for about six years, many of the games wearing braids with beads.
Right before a recent game in Monroe, while the team was lined up to get on the field, her mother Amy said the referee pulled her aside and said she couldn’t play the game because of her beads.
Amy offered to tie Aubrey’s hair back, but the referee said the beads are considered hair jewelry which posed a safety issue to both Aubrey and the other players.
“It was either take them out or don’t play,” Amy said. “For her type of hair you just can’t do that because it would damage your hair, it takes an hour and a half for us to get the beads out and to do the braids and it’s a process.”
Amy and her husband combed through the AYSO handbook, but hair beads were not mentioned. It says, “Players shall not wear anything that is dangerous to either themselves or other players.”
Aubrey had to watch the game from the bench and cheer on her teammates.
“From a 9-year-old’s perspective it’s like she’s getting punished for her hair,” Amy said.
Since Aubrey had been able to wear braids all these years, her mother said she felt like the rules changed mid-season; however, a representative with AYSO said players under 8 normally do not have referees to monitor the game.
Her mother felt as if she was being singled out and was worried how this incident would impact her daughter.
“For the ref it may not have been a racial issue and that’s where I say the diversity training comes to play because for me growing up African American, raising an African American daughter our hair being different is a major point of difference being a minority,” she said. “It’s a 9 year old, girl she’s still developing, she’s still growing, how can I make this situation better so that later on in life this doesn’t affect her negatively, so that this doesn’t affect her from wanting to play soccer in the future?”
In a statement, the AYSO wrote safety is the first priority in part saying: “The incident in which a young player was prevented from participating in her game due to her hair beads was not an act of discrimination, but a matter of safety.”
The AYSO sent an apology letter to Aubrey and also held a meeting with Amy.
“We all learned from it, learned from each other and the communication opened in the end,” she said.
An AYSO representative said they’ll revisit the handbook to make sure the rules are more clear as well as look at ways to better communicate information to parents, and look at diversity training for referees.
Aubrey has since played soccer, without beads but instead a pink bow.
The 9-year-old also got a letter of encouragement from a Haverford College student which reads in part: “Life will always find ways to knock us down, but as a black female, always remember the beauty that lives inside of you and the power you hold to create change. I encourage you to feel comfortable in your own skin no matter what happens, and continue to play the beautiful game.”