Ohio runner DQ’d over hijab…Who’s really to blame?

by John Boruk

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The Ohio High School Athletic Association should have seen this coming.

And they could have prevented it.

16-year-old Noor Alexandria Abukaram was disqualified from the Division I Northwest District cross country meet for failing to adhere to the rules of the OHSAA’s rules and guidebook.

Abukaram was wearing a hijab and in violation of a rule that states, “Cross country runners are barred from wearing most head coverings, like hats and caps, unless they have a signed and approved exception waiver granting them special permission for religious restrictions or otherwise.”

Here’s the state’s 2019 cross country handbook that states that very rule. In fact, the rules for competitor uniforms in cross country meets are rather extensive as you can judge for yourself

OSHAA executive director Jerry Snodgrass tweeted a statement addressing the embarrassment, while also claiming “much was misrepresented.” 

However, I don’t place the majority of the blame on the OSHAA for this fiasco.

“I felt so let down by the sport that I had trained so hard to run in,” Abukaram said.

The sport didn’t let you down. Your school, coach and administrators are equally at fault and could have been easily prevented this fiasco from taking place.

If you want to point the finger, then look no further than Northview girls varsity cross country coach Jerry Flowers and Northview Athletic Director Chris Irwin. 

As coaches and administrators, their primary duties are serving as advocates for the student-athletes under their guidance. Neither man was proactive in their responsibilities to ensure that Abukaram would be allowed to participate.  

They should have foreseen this situation coming and the school should have performed its due diligence in ensuring that Abukaram wasn’t in violation of any rules by simply filing the necessary waiver.

They failed to do so until after the embarrassment. 

Race officials reportedly notified coach Flowers that Abukaram was not in compliance of the rules prior to the start of the race, but still, he wanted to give his runner the opportunity to participate. Apparently, coach Flowers never gave Abukaram the decision (knowing she wouldn’t do it anyway) to remove the hijab. 

One woman was asked to change her shorts, which she did to avoid a similar disqualification. 

Abukaram has since submitted the waiver and wouldn’t you know it was approved immediately, according to Tim Stried (OSHAA Senior Director of Communications).

Stried added that the OSHAA will continue to educate coaches on all rules and “to emphasize consistent enforcement.”

Interestingly, if you dig deeper into the OSHAA rulebook you’ll notice an addendum as it pertains to jewelry, making an exception for “religious or medical medals” and now the governing body is looking to modify the headwear policy altogether.

Sports Illustrated presented the story as religious discrimination (which wasn’t the situation at all), but this is 2019 and stories like this are now presented from a progressive narrative.

SI columnist Alaa Abdeldaiem even questioned the governing body’s rules altogether by asking “Why was a waiver even necessary in the first place?”

Well, Abdeldaiem, waivers are part of the athletic process and most middle school and high school athletes are required to sign one prior to participation to avoid being sued or any other legal ramifications.

Typically, whether it’s the IOC, the NCAA or any other sports enforcement agency these matters are typically not addressed until a situation (like Abukaram’s) is brought to their attention.

This apparently was never done.

Moving forward a waiver may not be required as it pertains to a hijab, but Abukaram was never being singled out.

This isn’t about discrimination or stripping an athlete of their freedom to exercise their religious choices, but rather adhering to an existing policy and following the correct procedures to ensure the right thing is done.  

“I never want another student-athlete to endure the same fate that I did,” Abukaram said, “There should be no choice between choosing one’s faith or not participating in sport.”

There wouldn’t have been, if simply put, proper protocol had been followed.