Federal Court Rules High School Coach Cannot Require Basketball Players to Wear Short Hair

Saturday, March 01, 2014
Coach Stacy Meyer and Greensburg basketball team (photo: Hanover College)

Coaches who order boys to cut their hair or else face getting kicked off their team—beware: a federal appellate court says such a requirement is discriminatory and violates the U.S. Constitution.


The ruling (pdf) comes out of Indiana, where a high school basketball coach in Greensburg removed a male player because he refused to trim his locks.


The unofficial grooming policy of male coach Stacy Meyer, who led his team to a state championship last year, demanded boys keep their hair short (above the collar or higher).


One unidentified player, listed as A.H. in court documents, objected to the standard, which cost him his spot on the roster.


So his parents, Patrick and Melissa Hayden, sued Greensburg Community High School, claiming the same rule about hair length did not apply to members of girls’ sports teams.


The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the plaintiffs, who had lost their case in a lower court.


In a 2-1 vote, the judicial panel said the policy violated the student’s constitutional right to equal protection, as well as Title IX restrictions against discrimination in education.


“What we have before us is a policy that draws an explicit distinction between male and female athletes and imposes a burden on male athletes alone, and a limited record that does not supply a legally sufficient justification for the sex-based classification,” Judge Ilana Rovner wrote for the majority. “There is no suggestion that A.H. wishes to wear his hair in an extreme fashion, let alone that hair worn over a boy’s ears or collar or eyebrows is invariably problematic.”


The coach’s policy “prohibits far more than an Age-of-Aquarius, Tiny-Tim, hair-crawling-past-the-shoulders sort of hair style - it compels all male basketball players to wear genuinely short hair,” Rovner continued.


 “Although girls can evidently wear their hair as long as they wish,” she wrote, “could a female basketball player wear her hair in an extremely short ‘buzz-cut,’ which might literally qualify as ‘clean cut,’ but perhaps not in the sense that Coach Meyer means it, and perhaps not in synch with local norms? Surely, girls with longer hair must do something to keep their hair out their eyes while playing basketball.”


Rovner pointed out that, “in fact, male athletes use head and hair bands to do this very thing, as anyone who has watched professional basketball or football games recently can confirm.”


Meyer insisted his policy was intended to promote team unity and project a “clean-cut” image.


The dissenting judge, Daniel Manion, agreed that this policy was acceptable given local culture and the fact that other legal examples exist of differing standards for men and women’s hair.


“Imitating a policy established by the celebrated Hoosier and legendary basketball coach John Wooden, Coach Meyer insists that the boys on the Greensburg basketball team cut their hair shorter than A.H. prefers to cut his hair,” Manion wrote.


Manion said different grooming standards alone do not constitute discrimination, given existing rules in many workplaces.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Federal Appeals Court Says School Can’t Make Basketball Player Cut his Hair (by Justin L. Mack, Indianapolis Star)

Court Sees Bias in B-Ball Team's Short Hair Rule (by Jack Bouboushian, Courthouse News Service)

Patrick Hayden and Mellissa Hayden, on Behalf of Their Minor Child, A.H., v. Greensburg Community School Corporation, et al. (United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit) (pdf)


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