The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) unanimously voted on Thursday to amend a rule to allow student athletes who don religious headwear to be able to play in competitive games without having to officially request for a waiver, HuffPost reported. The amended rule goes into effect immediately.
The decision by the TSSAA comes after a teenage Muslim high school volleyball athlete for Valor Collegiate Prep was disqualified from a match after the referee refused to allow her to play in her hijab in September, Face2Face Africa reported at the time.
The athlete, Najah Aqeel, was warming up when her coach informed her of the referee’s decision. The official referred to a casebook rule stipulating athletes who wear the aforementioned headscarf for games need permission from the TSSAA. Aqeel, who said she played previous games with a hijab though she did not have an authorization, decided to sit out instead of removing it in order to be eligible to play.
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Following the announcement, Aqeel welcomed the amendment, telling HuffPost: “I have no idea why God chose me for this mission, but I am honored to have been part of a change that will affect so many people in the world. I want to thank the TSSAA for their part in taking such a huge step in making everyone feel included in the sports arena.”
Following the September incident, Aqeel’s school sent a request to the TSSAA asking them to nullify the religious headwear waiver requirement. Bernard Childress, TSSAA’s executive director, told the news outlet the amendment “demonstrates how the organization’s process works in regards to the bylaws the member schools abide by.”
“A school saw a need for a change and through the legislative process, they submitted a proposal for the change, and the Legislative Council, which is school administrators elected by their peers, voted to enact the proposal.”
Responding to the approval, the CEO of Valor school network, Todd Dickson, expressed his satisfaction and said he hopes such rules will eventually be amended nationwide.
“This is a great forward step for all student-athletes in Tennessee to be able to express their religion freely without fear of discrimination,” said Dickson. “We are so proud that an overwhelming number of TSSAA member schools across the state stood with us and voted to enact this change, and we are hopeful for the elimination of this rule nationwide.”
The TSSAA also announced they’re working with the National Federation of High Schools (NFHS) to eventually amend the religious headscarf permission requirement nationwide, HuffPost reported.