Stop punishing student athletes who wear religious headwear

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Last Saturday, 16-year-old cross country runner Noor Alexandria Abukaram crossed the finish line of a 5k race with a new personal record. She was heart-broken to find out that her record would no longer stand. Race officials had disqualified her for the most absurd reason -- she had worn a hijab while running. 

According to the Ohio High School Athletic Association, runners with religious headwear need a waiver to participate. This includes Muslim girls like Noor who wear hijabs, Jews who wear yarmulkes, and Sikhs like me who wear turbans. This is not right. And I need your signature to help change this discriminatory practice.

When I first heard of this incident, I felt pained and angered. I was overwhelmed by memories from my own childhood. I was born and raised in Texas. My three brothers and I grew up with a love for sports and a love for our Sikh faith. We wore turbans as part of our religion, and occasionally, an official would use headwear policies to keep us from being able to play. 

My older brother had to sit out his ninth grade year of basketball because of a similar high school rule in Texas. I had to petition the United States Soccer Federation to change its discriminatory rules so referees would stop giving me a hard time. My younger brother encountered a similar obstacle when he became the first turbaned Sikh to play NCAA basketball. 

No one should have to choose between their love for sport or their love for religion. And certainly no one should feel excluded in athletics. Sports should bring us all together, not drive us apart. 

Rules barring religious headwear are wrong, hurtful, and discriminatory. They’re also unnecessary and outdated.  

Let me say this as someone who has run the world’s largest marathon in New York City five times while wearing a turban. My religious identity didn’t hinder me or any of the other 50,000 people running alongside me each year. 

There is no legitimate reason to require religious minorities to carry waivers in order to compete in sports. It’s time to change this outdated and discriminatory rule. We call on the Ohio State Athletic Association to update its policies so that all students, including Noor Abukaram, can compete freely and fairly.