Sports and uniforms go together like peanut butter and jelly. Juashuanna Kelly, a practicing Muslim and Washington, D.C., high school senior, has the fastest mile and two-mile times in the D.C. area.
In order to compete and still recognize her religious beliefs, Kelly’s uniform includes a unitard and hood that help her to conform to the Muslim belief that forbids women from showing any skin other than her face and hands. Over the unitard, she wears the same blue and orange t-shirt as her team mates.
The variation seems to have been just fine with everyone until this week, when she was disqualified from the Montgomery Invitational meet in Montgomery County.
The Montgomery meet is important for Kelly and other runners. This venue is the only opportunity for many of these athletes to qualify for the New Balance Collegiate Invitational in New York. The New Balance Invitational is attended by many college coaches from across the country and provides great visibility for a talented young runner looking to continue both her education and her sport. The kind of runner we should probably support, right?
Well, not so fast. After running in last year’s Montgomery Invitational – and her entire track season – in her unitard, event organizers have now decided that it is a big no-no. They say that she is out of compliance with their uniform specifications. They say that by complying with her religious beliefs, she is violating national competition rules.
It’s not like the girl visited BALCO. She’s just following her faith – a faith that may be under fire by the more paranoid Americans among us, but is one of the biggest religions in the world.
So, it was OK last year. What’s wrong with it this year?
Is it fear? Does some hard-boiled patriot want to make sure no “Muslim girl” gets his little girls’ college scholarship?
Last I checked, religious freedom is one of the founding tenets of this country. Shouldn’t this extend to allowing an observant Muslim to follow her faith while also excelling at her sport? Is this part of our country’s 9-11 hangover?
I, for one, think this is ridiculous. I think it smacks of racism and is shamefully myopic. This country was once a “melting pot”. Isn’t it our responsibility to uphold that ideal?
I also think that Kelly’s team should rally behind her. They can all rock the unitard. I bet Tina Knowles – Beyonce’s mama – can come up with something both aerodynamic AND Bedazzled!
By Jay Hicks, a.k.a. Track Evangelist