We're supposed to feel bad for the Muslim teen girl who got yanked out of a high school basketball game because the ref thought her headscarf put her in danger. How dare he trample on her freedom of religion? How dare he expect all kids follow the rules?
We are supposed to see racism here. I see a hiccup in the cultural melting pot that is America. We all enjoy our rights to practice our own beliefs, but we must do so with respect for others. And in the case of seventh-grader Maheen Haq, that means a respect for the rules of Mid-Maryland Girls Basketball.
The referee said a hijab wrapped 'round Haq's head and neck could put her in danger. I've watched basketball and played organized sports. He's absolutely right. Youth sports are dangerous and unpredictable. Based on estimates from the National Center for Sports Safety, more than 3.5 million children ages 14 and under receive medical treatment for sports injuries each year.
Citing a danger and looking out for a child isn't, as Haq's father claimed, discrimination. It's common sense, something more parents need as we encourage them to hold true to the cultural ideals of our own separate backgrounds while simultaneously embracing an American lifestyle. To take it out of Muslim context, it would be as nonsensical for a born again Christian wearing long skirts to take up archery with flaming arrows.
Part of the beauty of being an American is the power of choice. We can choose to embrace our own personal beliefs, and with that comes the choice to opt out of situations where it's impossible to find a balance.
Yes, I'm a liberal who believes in being as inclusionary as possible. But I'm also a realist who can acknowledge that freedom does not mean the ability to trample over others beliefs. When lesbian parents complain that their kid gets kicked out of a Catholic school, I don't rally against the school because the lesbian parents knew going in that they were entering a den of homophobia. They made their bed, now they need to lie in it.
Similarly, in youth sports, the basic rules aren't there to be discriminatory. They're there to keep kids from being strangled to death when someone accidentally gets their hand wrapped up in the other's headscarf. Haq's family need only go out and buy her a sport version of the hijab, which is made to tear away rather than strangle a girl in case of contact on the court (or field -- they're used in soccer too).
That's it. The league said they can let her play, provided her parents take responsibility for any injury should she have one. That's not discrimination. That's a hiccup that proves freedom isn't always "free." It comes with a need to bend too.
Do you think the ref was right?
Image via emrank/Flickr