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The Illinois Inclusive Sportswear Law is confusing to some

Fatima Sayadah came into the gym on a Saturday in mid-September during her freshman volleyball season, ready to compete. Every Saturday her The Northside College Prep team participated in volleyball tournaments at Von Steuben High School. Her coach planned to start her. She was excited.

Then they put her on the bench.

The judge said Sayadah could not compete because the long-sleeved shirt she wore under her Islamic identity was white and did not match the team’s black jersey. Sayadah said she was wearing a white jersey at the tournament last week and was allowed to compete, but the referee didn’t budge and Sayadah had to sit out.

“I don’t understand why I wasn’t allowed (to play) because I did it earlier in the year,” Sayadah recalled to the Tribune. “Obviously it was a different referee but I was still allowed to play and I feel like if I had been allowed to play I would have done really well.”

A little over a year after Illinois passed Inclusive Sportswear Lawsome athletes say there is still confusion on the courts and playgrounds when it comes to the details and how far the rules should go.

The law, which was the first of its kind when passed in September 2021, allows student-athletes in Illinois to change their uniforms to suit any cultural, religious or personal preferences they may have without facing any penalties or disqualifications during competition, such as wearing longer sleeves, full pants or playing in a hijab, said Maaria Mozafar, director of advocacy and policy for the Illinois Muslim Civic Coalition, which helped draft the legislation.

“We believe this is a process of restoring dignity to athletes, where it’s more about their skill than what they wear,” Mozafar said of the law’s creation.

Sayyada and teammate Sadia Hussain, both 15, finished their first season of volleyball in early October. According to them, both girls are Muslim and have been wearing hijab for almost 10 years. When they signed up to play volleyball, they knew they would wear long-sleeved shirts under short-sleeved T-shirts and leggings or sweatpants instead of shorts because of their religion.

Hussain recalled an incident when she forgot to bring a black hijab and was dressed in gray. She said she felt “panic because I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to play because I was wearing a gray hijab.”

She said Sayyada ended up lending her an extra black hijab. While it’s unclear if she broke the color code, she said she had to change her hijab because she was worried it was “a bit unpleasant”.

But Sayada’s situation isn’t so black and white, according to Craig Anderson, executive director of the Illinois High School Association.

National Federation of Public Secondary Schools Rule volleyball uniform rules The book states that “any visible clothing worn under the uniform top must be unadorned and of a single solid color similar in color to the predominant color of the uniform top.” He said the rule helps prevent athletes from opposing teams wearing the same colors, which can make it difficult for referees to make accurate calls.

The wording of the state’s Inclusive Sportswear Act does not specify whether the modification must be a specific color. According to the law, any modification “shall not interfere with the student’s movement or endanger the safety of students or other athletes or players.”

Referees must renew their licenses in each sport each year by retaking the rules exam. They are also required to review the online presentation of the sport’s rules annually, according to the IHSA website.

Anderson said the NFHS’ “longstanding” rules are reviewed annually, and each state association also has permission to submit potential rule changes

“I know the uniform rules in all sports have been revised and changed throughout history, but I think the foundation is to try to create some guidelines for our schools so that there is a common foundation of what the students will look like when they go to participate , rather than people showing up in what they want,” Anderson said. “I think it’s also just to protect the integrity of the competition. The uniform rules have the context to create a level playing field and provide guidance to avoid confusion.”

Freshman volleyball coach Jason Curry, 29, said that while the team’s jersey is black, it has white lettering on it, so he didn’t think the white shirt underneath should have been a problem. He also expressed confusion as to why one judge allowed Sayadah to compete in a white jersey one week and another judge told him she was “out of shape” the next.

“I’m very upset as a coach that you put this kid through a very traumatic experience,” Curry said. “I felt like, you know, the color didn’t distract from the game at all. Culturally, religiously, she has to be covered up, yes, and the white undershirt was totally appropriate.”

He said Saiyada would take the field for the team that day. He said her sitting out after “she gave up her Saturday” to attend the game was “very disappointing” not only for Sayada, but also for Curry and the team.

Anderson said that sometimes referee officials are forced to make judgment calls.

“There’s always a black and white rule, and of course there’s some gray area that they have to follow,” he said. “When it comes to the uniform, it’s usually black and white, but the official can always use his discretion to determine how close the color of the sleeves is to the jersey and offer a bit of grace.”

The state’s inclusive athletic apparel law was the first of its kind in the country, Mozafar said, when it passed in September 2021, but other states have since passed similar legislation. Earlier this year, Ohio signed into law its own version, which gives students the right to wear religious clothing without having to obtain a waiver or permission in advance. Maryland soon followed suit with its own law allowing student-athletes to change their uniforms to suit their individual requirements or preferences.

Before the law, a student-athlete had to receive a waiver to achieve the same result and go through the process of talking to their coach, writing a letter and more, which Mozafar called an “arduous” ordeal.

“We’ve actually seen people get disqualified because they didn’t follow the waiver process properly, like a misunderstanding with the coach or a misunderstanding with the team, which is a process we didn’t want at all,” Mozafar said. said. “It’s really helped the student-athletes, and we’re excited to see so many student-athletes from so many different communities now get to participate, be a part of the school’s identity, and Illinois get to enjoy athletes that they didn’t know existed before.” .

Anderson said the organization approved “almost every housing request” in the area before the law went into effect.

“I believe the new law has helped better educate our schools about the benefits that are provided to their student-athletes,” Anderson said. “It’s been good for the students to know that there’s a certain level of comfort for them to wear the sportswear that’s most comfortable for them, and I think we’ve been lucky that we’ve been able to navigate that for our students to really feel comfortable when they go compete and represent their schools.”

Mazzafar said the coalition was holding meetings with local Muslim community organizations to create a legislative agenda when the issue of sports uniforms arose. The team then learned that the problem was not limited to the Muslim community, but spread to other faiths and communities that wanted to change the “pressure to follow a strict uniform code”.

The topic made it onto the coalition’s 2021 legislative agenda, and they’ve been working with lawmakers, with state Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, a key player, Mozafar said. The legislation was passed unanimously by both the committee and the General Assembly.

Hussain also said schools should have the funding to be able to provide their athletes with long-sleeve and long-pants options because playing in layers was also “very difficult” for them.

“We have to get the necessary conditions so that we can play according to the rules, so that we can perform at our best,” Sayada said. “We had to take care of these certain criteria that they give us, but it’s a little bit annoying that it’s our financial responsibility.”

Anderson said there are schools that offer more options to their athletes, so it’s “definitely possible” for any school, but it depends on the school. The Inclusive Athletic Apparel Act also includes language that says school modifications are at the student’s expense, but the school can do so at its discretion.

Curry said he expects all referees to be trained to be “culturally aware and sensitive” to the preferences and comfort of young athletes.

“I’m a socially conscious person and a sports watcher, so when things like white shirts are an issue, it’s very surprising to me,” Curry said. “Maybe I need to do a better job as a coach to teach myself all the rules, but I also think it’s a smart thing for people to do.”

Once Saiyada learned it was against the rules to wear white under her jersey, she said she stopped wearing white so she could play every other game.

“It was disappointing for her and for me,” said her teammate Hussain, “because I think she was definitely capable of showing her best and the color of her sleeves was a hindrance.”


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