Update (July 14, 2021): The National Federation of High Schools (NFHS), announced changes to its softball rules Monday, following a high-profile case where a Black player was forced to cut her hair during a game, The Charlotte Observer reported

In May, Nicole Pyles of Hillside High School in Durham, North Carolina, was forced to either cut her hair during a game or be benched because of the beads she was wearing. Pyles chose the former and let her teammates cut her hair, which she referred to as “humiliating.”

“It was humiliating,” Pyles said in a Zoom interview with The News & Observer at the time of the incident. “Why do I have to take away from myself just to play this game where we are actually doing well? I’m embarrassed because you pick on me in front of all these people for no reason.”

As part of the new regulation, the NFHS, which is the governing body for high school athletics, removed language in Rule 3-2-5b that had previously prohibited hard items to control the hair, including hair beads. In addition, revised Rule 3-2-5c will allow “head coverings worn for religious reasons” but states that they “must be made of non-abrasive, soft materials and must fit securely so that it is unlikely to come off during play.”

Hair coverings will also no longer require approval from state associations.

Original story (May 13, 2021): A Black high school softball player in North Carolina faced blatant hair discrimination in the middle of a game after umpires forced her to cut off her hair.  

Nicole Pyles said the game’s two umpires gave her an ultimatum: to either remove the beads from her hair or not play in the senior day game, The News & Observer reported

“It was humiliating,” the Hillside High School sophomore said of the experience in a Zoom interview with the newspaper. “Why do I have to take away from myself just to play this game where we are actually doing well? I’m embarrassed because you pick on me in front of all these people for no reason.” 

On April 19, the night of the game against Jordan High School, Pyles said one of the rival coaches got upset because their team was losing. The umpires, one of whom is white and the other is Black, then turned the situation on her, claiming her hair beads were causing an issue for the rival team.   

“I was upset because [the umpire] had seen me play in the game multiple times,” Pyles said. “And for him just to bring it up because another coach or parent said something, it’s like…why wasn’t it enforced the first time?” 

According to The News & Observer, the umpires were adhering to a strict rule applied by the National Federation of State High School Associations which prohibits players from using plastic visors, bandannas and hair beads while allowing the use of bobby pins, barrettes and hair clips.   

Video of the incident showed her teammates in the school’s dugout yelling, “Does anyone have scissors” so they could help cut her hair off.    

Despite being embarrassed, Pyles felt there was nothing she could do to stop the commotion and instead allowed her teammates to cut out the beads. According to USA Today, she said her coach and teammates have continued to show her support following the traumatic night, applauding her strength. 

Durham Public Schools (DPS) condemned the dispute in a statement.

“[We] support our student-athletes and their right to self-expression in a manner befitting their culture, consistent with safety in training and competition. We believe the blanket ban on hair beads is culturally biased and problematic. We support our student, Nicole Pyles, and believe this rule should be amended. We frown on any rule or policy that promotes cultural insensitivity or does not reflect the ideals and principles of DPS and our employees,” the statement read.

Pyles said she wants an apology from the rival team's coaches and to see the archaic rule against wearing beads nullified. She added that the rule is "unnecessary" and “If you're able to tie your hair down and it’s not blocking your vision…and it’s not hurting anybody else,” then it should be okay. 

Her parents have also asked for the NC High School Athletic Association to eradicate the discriminatory policies, The Progressive Pulse reported

“The humiliation my child experienced could have, and should have, been avoided,” Julius Pyles, Nicole’s father, said. “A level of professionalism should have resolved this situation so that no child, regardless of color, while under adult supervision, would experience discrimination because of their hairstyle.”

Durham Public Schools has since launched an investigation in response to the incident’s backlash, stating the "culturally biased" high school athletics rules in the state. It was then labeled as a "hair discrimination incident" by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice who requested that state officials "eradicate all forms of anti-Black biases in schools.”