New rules, new laws protect wrestlers' natural hair styles

New NCAA rules governing hair length of wrestlers, along with new state laws protecting natural hair styles just approved by one state and pending in at least two others, are expected to have an impact on some participants in the sport.

New NCAA rules

Late last month, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved removing all language in the wrestling rules book regarding the length of a wrestler's hair.

"Wrestlers' hair still will be required to be free of oils and/or greasy substances," according to the official NCAA announcement issued on June 26. "Hair coverings still will be allowed and considered special equipment. The rule that prohibited a wrestler's hair from extending below the level of an ordinary shirt collar and the hair on the side of the head from extending below the earlobes has been eliminated."

These NCAA rule changes regarding hair are effective for the 2019-20 academic year.

New state laws

California has become the first U.S. state to outlaw racial discrimination based on an individual's hair.

In signing Senate Bill 188 the day before the Fourth of July, California Gov. Gavin Newsom has created the nation's first law that will make it more difficult for employers and schools to penalize individuals for wearing their hair in a non-European style, which could include cornrows, Afros or dreadlocks.

SB 188, also known as The CROWN Act: Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair, came about after a number of incidents across the nation, including the one last December in which New Jersey high school wrestler Andrew Johnson was forced to cut his dreadlocks matside before being allowed to compete in a dual meet ... an incident captured on video which generated 13 million views in less than a week, and garnered worldwide coverage in mainstream media which normally doesn't cover wrestling.

Just before signing the bill -- which goes into effect Jan. 1, 2020 -- Governor Newson referred to Johnson, the then 16-year-old wrestler who made headlines far beyond his native New Jersey, saying, "His decision whether or not to lose an athletic competition or lose his identity came into, I think, stark terms for millions of Americans. It is played out in workplaces, it's played out in schools -- not just athletic competitions and settings -- every single day all across America in ways subtle and overt."

On the heels of California, lawmakers in New York and New Jersey have now also introduced versions of the CROWN Act.

"New York could potentially be the second state to sign this bill into law," CBS News reported Thursday. "The bill has passed both houses of the state's legislature and is awaiting the governor's signature."

A similar bill introduced in the New Jersey Legislature would ban discrimination based on hair in the workplace, housing, and public schools.

Identical versions of the bill were introduced this month in the Assembly and Senate.

"New Jersey lawmakers who sponsored the bill say they were inspired partly by Andrew Johnson, a South Jersey wrestler who decided to have his dreadlocks cut to avoid forfeiting his match last December," according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. "Johnson won the match in overtime and Buena Regional High School won the meet, but the debate has continued about whether the referee acted appropriately and whether his actions were racially discriminatory."

Johnson's attorney, Dominic Speziali, commended the sponsors of the bill, adding that if adopted, the bill would likely require some public schools to review their hair grooming policies.


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