Sunday, January 20, 2008

Standout Runner Disqualified Over Muslim Clothing

Prep runner Juashaunna Kelly recovers from a 5K race during a cross-country meet Oct. 5, 2007, in Washington

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


  1. The Washington Post has already been guilty of irresponsible reporting. Please don't follow in their footsteps. Here is the press release issued by the NFHS, the governing body of national high school sports for the U.S.
    Re why she ran last year in this meet wearing the uniform? There was one clerk on duty who was overworked. This year there were four. Incidentally, there were two other runners in separate meets disqualified for the same exact reason as Ms. Kelly -- neither felt it necessary to make a big deal out of it, instead they undoubtedly made mental notes not to do it again.

    NFHS Responds to Maryland Track Situation
    Contact: Becky Oakes
    INDIANAPOLIS, IN (January 17, 2008) - Last Saturday, Juashuanna Kelly, a runner on the girls track team at Theodore Roosevelt High School in Washington, D.C., elected not to compete in the Montgomery Invitational indoor track and field meet in Maryland after meet officials advised her that she would need to replace her undergarment because it violated track and field playing rules published by the National Federation of State High School Association (NFHS).
    The NFHS issues the following statement regarding this incident:
    "The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), the national leadership organization for high school sports and fine arts activities, writes playing rules in 17 sports for boys and girls competition at the high school level, including track and field.
    "Rule 4-3-1-d of the NFHS Track and Field and Cross Country Rules Book states that 'Any visible garment(s) worn underneath the uniform top or bottom shall be a single, solid color and unadorned except for 1) a single school name or insignia no more than 2¼ square inches with no dimension more than 2¼ inches and 2) a single, visible manufacturer's logo as per NFHS rules.'
    "Using preventive officiating, meet officials at the Montgomery Invitational checked uniforms prior to the events to make sure they complied with NFHS uniform rules. Since Kelly's one-piece undergarment was multi-colored (blue, orange, white), it was in violation of the uniform rules. The meet officials did not disqualify Kelly; they informed her she would have to replace the multi-colored undergarment with a single-colored undergarment, an option which she declined and, thus, did not compete.
    "The head covering, which was a part of Kelly's one-piece undergarment, nor the length of the undergarment were in violation of NFHS rules. She could have worn the same style of undergarment, with a head covering, as long as the undergarment was one color throughout the entire piece of clothing. The NFHS track uniform rule was put in place for consistency across the board and for ease in identifying runners at the finish line. Multi-colored undergarments cause greater identification problems for track officials.
    "The track uniform is a point of emphasis by the NFHS this year in an effort to have more consistent and widespread enforcement of the rule. Because of her Muslim faith, there were reports that her uniform undergarment was ruled unacceptable on religious grounds. While Kelly's faith requires her to cover all parts of the body except her hands and face, a single-colored undergarment with a hood would have been acceptable both from an NFHS rules standpoint as well as meeting the requirements of her Muslim faith.

  2. The PRJ post calls into question the racial motivations behind the disqualification in this year's race. The "there was one clerk at check-in last year but we were fully staffed to catch you this year," explanation seems like the typical corporation strategy of hiding behind the rule book when caught in an embarassing situation.