Mum accuses soccer league of racial bias over hair accessories

MADISON COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) – A Madison County mother is outraged after saying her young daughter was warned not to have hair beads in her hair or risk being barred from recreational football activities in what she considers it a racially motivated incident.

Alecia Clay told News 19 that her 8-year-old daughter, Anslie, is enjoying her first season of recreational soccer in the American Youth Soccer Organization’s North Madison County chapter (AYSO), after having also practiced various other sports.

“She’s made some really good friendships out of it, and so far so good,” Clay said.

Clay said that two weeks after having Anslie’s hair braided with small beads for her birthday, the AYSO football coach took the child aside alone during a practice.

“With no parental guidance at all… she was told if she wanted to play on Saturday she would have to mess her hair up or she couldn’t play,” Clay said. “He then referred to her as ‘the little girl with the loud hair’ in front of the whole team throughout that practice and ultimately humiliated my daughter and embarrassed her to the point that she wasn’t there. The other teammates joined in the teasing, taking the example of the coach.

Clay said she hasn’t received support from other league parents since the incident and the league has offered little in the way of a solution.

“This director told me that at the end of the day he was sorry my daughter went through this, but since it was so late in the season his hands were tied he couldn’t do anything,” Clay said.

AYSO uses the international football governing body Fifa interpret safety rules such as hair ornaments, and here it is listed as a jewel that can be considered dangerous.

However, many youth sports governing bodies in other states to have bans overturned on hair beads in recent years after cries of racial insensitivity.

The director of the North Madison County AYSO chapter referred News 19 to its national bureaus in California, which sent a statement reading,

“AYSO is committed to being an inclusive organisation, but we regret the way this situation has been handled with Ms Clay and her daughter. We never intend to make any player, parent or volunteer feel left out or singled out. We understand the sensitivity of this issue and others like it, and are committed to educating and training our volunteers to prevent it from happening again in the future. We will continue to engage with Ms. Clay to find a solution.

For Clay, no ideas put forward in the future will cure the emotional ache that she believes is already affecting her daughter.

“You can give me my money back at this point, but you can’t give me back my daughter’s spirit. You can’t give me back my daughter’s love for football. You can’t repay my daughter her love for her hair. And now, as a parent, I’m left to undo that emotional damage and trauma ultimately.

This article has been updated to include a specific article reference where AYSO lists hair ornaments such as hair beads as a potentially dangerous body decoration.

David R. Brewer