An American basketball star who plays professionally in Australia has accused the league she plays in of practicing racial discrimination against her because of her hairstyle.
Tiffany Mitchell, 27, took to social media on Sunday to express those concerns and said she was recently threatened with “clear racial discrimination” after the Basketball Australia (BA) league tried to implement a rule banning players from wearing their hair in braids. BA’s insensitive protocol was once enforced by The International Basketball Federation (FIBA), but the rule has long been removed from the Women’s National Basketball League, local news outlet The Age reported. The rule claimed that basketball players who wore their braided hair down could potentially injure their fellow teammates’ eyes.
In a lengthy Instagram post, Mitchell said that she was approached by someone from the BA stating she would no longer be able to compete on the court until she tied her hair up or wore it in a bun.
“An email was also sent out informing coaches and referees to make sure the “rule” was in place for “the players” with braids,” she continued. “Now in I don’t know how many years this league chooses to enforce this “fiba” rule about the length of someone’s hair.”
Mitchell said that she felt as though the league was targeting Black players, in particular, over the hairstyle. “I’ve played all around the world, in every top league at the highest level and my braids have never been an issue,” she added.
The matter was quickly cleared up before the Boomers’ match against the Southside Flyers on Dec. 11, but Mitchell revealed in her emotional open letter that she was still startled by the discriminatory rule despite winning the game.
“You can clearly see the pain I was still carrying – how are you enforcing a rule that isn’t even a rule anymore?’ Mitchell, who was signed to the Boomers after playing with the WNBA’s Indiana Fever stateside, explained. “The target I felt I had on my back was indescribable but still played with all the disappoint I felt from Basketball Australia.”
Before the game, Mitchell and her teammates kneeled in protest of the ban. Although it “did not change” how “she felt inside about the entire situation,” the athlete said that it was comforting to know that she had her teammates support. “Goes to show we have a long way to go for equality all over the world,” she added. “Unfortunate it had to be for these conversations to happen but happy that Basketball Australia is held accountable and become aware of the ignorance that was displayed in this situation.”
The BA released a statement shortly after the game on Sunday expressing their regret.
“Basketball Australia makes an unreserved apology for any anguish and pain that was caused by this rule,” the statement read, according to The Daily Mail. “The policy has been deemed discriminatory and inconsistent with Basketball Australia’s Diversity and Inclusion framework by the WNBL Commission.”
The statement continued: “It is also not enforced in either the WNBL, other leading professional women’s leagues around the world, or international competitions such as the Olympics and World Cup. ‘To this end, the WNBL Commission has removed the policy, effective immediately.”
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