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Officials and Rules: The Washington, D.C. Uniform Incident

Brooke deLenchIt seems that every season a story comes to my attention about a high school track & field athlete being disqualified from a meet for a seemingly minor rules violation. The most recent case to garner attention was that of Juashaunna Kelly, the best distance runner in Washington, D.C., who was disqualified last month because the body suit she races in to comply with the requirements of her Muslim religion did not comply with the rules of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) regarding uniform color.

Like many others I did not initially understand why the color of an athlete's uniform should matter. When I read that the rule requiring that uniforms be a single, solid color helps meet officials to distinguish athletes, I could understand the reason for the rule. That being the case, rules is only as effective as their enforcement. When a rule exists solely in its de jure form, and is hardly ever enforced as a de facto rule, the result is confusion and inconsistency. It is the very opposite of the reason for sports rules- to create a safe and fair competitive environment. There is nothing fair about using rules on a haphazard and selective basis. The injured party in these situations is nearly always the athletes.