Mom accuses soccer league of racial bias over hair accessories

MADISON COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) — A Madison County mom is outraged after she says her young daughter was warned not to have hair beads in her hair or risk being excluded from recreational soccer activities in what she considers a racially motivated incident.

Alecia Clay told News 19 that her 8-year-old daughter Anslie was getting a kick out of her first season of recreational soccer in north Madison County’s chapter of American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO), after also enjoying various other sports.

“She’s made some really good friendships out of it and, up until this point, all has been well,” Clay said.

Clay said two weeks after getting Anslie’s hair braided with small beads for her birthday, the AYSO soccer coach took the child aside alone during a practice.

“With no parental guidance at all…she was told that if she wanted to play on Saturday she would have to take her hair down or she could not play,” Clay said. “He then proceeded to refer to her as ‘the noisy-haired little girl’ in front of the entire team throughout that practice and ultimately humiliated my daughter and embarrassed her to the point where she wasn’t comfortable playing. The other teammates would join in with teasing, taking from the coach’s example.”

Clay said she hasn’t received support from other parents in the league since the incident, and that the league offered little resolution.

“That director told me that ultimately he was sorry my daughter experienced that, but with it being so late in the season their hands were tied, there was nothing he could do,” Clay said.

Numerous youth sports governing bodies in other states have rescinded bans on hair beads in recent years after outcries of racial insensitivity, but AYSO’s rules clarify little info if any when it comes to items in hair.

The director of north Madison County’s chapter of AYSO referred News 19 to its national offices in California, which sent a statement reading,

“AYSO is committed to be an inclusive organization, but we regret how this situation has been handled with Ms. Clay and her daughter. It is never our intention to make any player, parent or volunteer feel excluded or singled out. We understand the sensitivity of this issue and others like it, and are committed to educating and training our volunteers to ensure this does not occur in the future. We will continue to dialogue with Ms. Clay to find a resolution.”

For Clay, any ideas brought forth in the future won’t heal the emotional harm she says is already affecting her daughter.

“You can give me my money back at this point, but you cannot give me my daughter’s spirit back. You cannot give me my daughter’s love for the game back. You cannot give my daughter her love for her hair back to her. And now I as a parent – I’m left to repair those emotional damages and trauma ultimately.”