Women’s basketball team takes knee, star claims racial discrimination in row about hair

A women’s basketball star has claimed that an apparent order for players to tie up braided hair was “clear racial discrimination” after her team took a knee in protest.

Tiffany Mitchell, an American star for Australian side the Melbourne Boomers, joined her teammates in taking a pre-match knee over a disputed email said to have been sent from bosses ruling that players should tie up braids.

Kneeling is usually associated with solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement, and Mitchell said the gesture had been made to “combat” Basketball Australia (BA), adding that she had been discriminated against.

“Throughout my first month here in Australia I had little-to-no problems,” she said, predicting that her words would prove “uncomfortable for some to read and inspiring for others”.

“Until this past week, when I was met with a situation that was clear racial discrimination.

“I was approached about my hair and [told] that, for the start of the regular season, I wouldnt be able to play if I didnt tie my hair up or wear it in a bun.

“An email was also sent out informing coaches and refs to make sure the ‘rule’ was in place for ‘the players’ with braids.

“Now, in I don’t know how many years, this league chooses to enforce this ‘FIBA’ [International Basketball Federation] rule about the length of someone’s hair.

“Braids specifically: of course, people with ‘free braids’, as they call it. Apparently it’s clear that only the black people in this league have these type of braids.

“I’ve played all around the world, in every top league at the highest level and my braids have never been an issue.”

In a statement, BA said it had reviewed and removed the rule, revealing that it was deemed “discriminatory” and inconsistent with a Diversity and Inclusion framework drawn up by a commission.

“Basketball Australia makes an unreserved apology for any anguish and pain that was caused by this rule,” it added, also sending a letter saying sorry to Boomers player Ezi Magbegor.

Jacob Holmes, the CEO of the Australian Basketball Players’ Association (ABPA), pledged support for Mitchell and other players “in the pursuit of a respectful, inclusive and safe environment at work, in the community and online.”

“We commend Tiffany and the players for addressing this issue,” he said. “Unacceptably, we have witnessed online abuse directed at players in relation to this incident.

“Racist abuse is abhorrent. People who perpetuate this abuse, whether online or offline, can expect to face consequences.

“As organisations, and as individuals, we have the responsibility to identify and call out racism in every space.

“You can stand with the players and us to call out abuse. When you identify systemic racism and discrimination, work to change it.

“The ABPA takes an active role in correcting the issues our players are facing with cultural insensitivities and discrimination in our basketball community.

“Collectively, we can set the example and continue to educate and support each other.”

Pictures from the game in which Mitchell observed the mistaken application of the bygone rule showed her looking upset.

“You can clearly see in the [picture] the pain I was still carrying, because how are you enforcing a rule that isn’t even a rule anymore?” she said.

“The target I felt I had on my back was undescribable but I still played [despite] all the disappoint I felt [with] Basketball Australia.

“Did [taking a knee] change how I still felt inside about the entire situation? No. But it gave me a sense of comfort knowing that the ladies that I suit up with every night had my teammate and my backs.

“Goes to show we have a long way to go for equality all over the world. Unfortunate that it had to [take] these conversations to happen, but I’m happy that Basketball Australia is held accountable and has become aware of the ignorance that was displayed in this situation.

“The support has been beyond amazing. You never know what someone is going through. It’s time to hold people accountable; situations like this are just not accepatable anymore.”

Australian NBA player Patrick Mills was among those offering Mitchell support. “No-one should ever be singled out because of their colour, origin or ethnicity,” he tweeted.

“It is unacceptable. I’m sorry you had to experience this. Sending lots of love and good vibes your way.”

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