Flag football team members can't play in league because of their hair

Sunshine Christian League rules say cornrows, twists, dreadlocks are not allowed

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – There is a debate over hair and whether flag football players can participate in a Christian sports league.

According to the Jacksonville-based Sunshine Christian League, some players on the flag football team for Impact Christian Academy in the Regency area violated the rules, which state boys must have a "trim, neat, conservative haircut" and "curly hair should be short, not more than 1 inch in length."

Parents said Impact Christian Academy's boys flag football team was told during a meeting Tuesday that the team could not play in the league's games because some of the players' hair was longer than 2 inches. However, the Sunshine Christian League said the team can still play, but players whose hair violates league rules cannot. 

A team photo shows the flag football team is made up on predominately black boys. 

"Never thought an athlete would be judged by his race, ethnicity and the style of their hair. We (have) faith that our kids won't experience these cruel situations. But, unfortunately, in society, it still exists. All we can do is motivate them to overcome them," said a woman named Jillian, whose son is biracial.

Family members said they are confused and upset after learning some of the players' hair is too long for them to play in the league. 

"My grandson got in the car yesterday. He says, 'We don't have a game until the end of October,'" said Pamela Cooney, the grandmother of Jillian's son, who plays on Impact Christian Academy's flag football team. "He said, 'These teams don't want to play us.' And he said,'They said it's because of our hair.'"

Sunshine Christian League rules state:

"Male players, coaches and support staff (time-keepers, etc.) must have a neat, trim, conservative haircut. The hair is to be tapered or blocked and is to be off the collar. It is to be above the ears. Dying or coloring the tips of the hair, cornrows, twists or dreadlocks are not allowed. Curly hair should be short, not more than 1 inch in length."

"I've never seen rules like that for any teams. Look at the NFL, look at college, you see boys with long hair," Cooney said. "I don't see that it matters and I don't see them grabbing anybody's hair."

Bruce Armstrong, one of the charter members of Sunshine Christian League and the senior pastor at West Meadows Baptist Church, told the I-TEAM by phone Wednesday that the team was not kicked out of the league. He said the team has several players whose hair is out of compliance with league standards and the team can play without those team members.

"I am communicating with the leadership of Impact Church & school. I am currently waiting to hear back from them so have no comment at this time," reads an email that he also sent to the I-TEAM. 

The boys flag football team at West Meadows Baptist Church also plays in the Sunshine Christian League. 

Family members of Impact Christian Academy flag football players said they just want the children to be able to play, but Cooney said the children shouldn't have to cut their hair to be able to play.

"I just want them to understand how this made the boys feel to have something ripped," Cooney said. "They worked so hard this summer. They went in before school started and they were coached and coached and coached."

She added, "To have this taken away from them is not right."

Deacon Randall Jordan, with Impact Christian Academy, said he will wait to comment until after he has spoken with Armstrong. 

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