Only Sure Thing in Mili Hernandez ‘Hair Too Short’ Soccer Controversy: Adults Ruin Everything – Forbes
On the night of June 4, WOWT-TV in Omaha, Neb., aired what it said was an exclusive story on a youth sports shocker: a girls’ soccer team kicked out of a tourney because one of its players was mistaken for a boy because her hair was too short.
Within a few days, the social media outrage machine had kicked (no soccer pun intended) into high gear, and all-time women’s soccer greats Abby Wambach and Mia Hamm had weighed in with messages of support for the girl at the center of the story, Mili Hernandez.
Only one problem — it’s not entirely clear the injustice visited upon Mili is actually the injustice we all thought it was. As the story has unfolded, the only thing that appears certain is that there is some adult, or adults, who has made life unnecessarily difficult for Mili and her teammates, and that as usual in youth sports, adults ruin everything.
The initial report on WOWT-TV quoted Mili, her father and her older brother, who made the claim that organizers of the Ray Heimes Springfield Soccer Invitational in Springfield, Neb., booted (no soccer pun intended) Mili’s Azzurri Cachorros Chicas team because they believe her to be a boy, even though the family produced a health insurance identification card showing she was a girl.
If true, this is completely outrageous, and the Internet responded in kind, making Mili into a — uh, not this term again — a viral sensation. Further reporting found that Mili accidentally had an “M,” for male, next her name instead of “F,” for female, in the tournament entry. The Nebraska State Soccer Association apologized to Mili, and it threatened to suspend the tournament’s sanctioning unless it investigated what happened. Her teammates showed their solidarity by all cutting their hair short.
However, the original story did not quote anyone associated with the team, nor did it quote any of the tournament organizers (who, WOWT said, wouldn’t speak on camera, and who were going to send a response through their attorney the next morning). The story also didn’t say who told what to whom — did the organizers tell the girl directly? Or tell her coach, who told her? On June 8, four days after the first report, the tournament’s volunteer director spoke to ESPNW.com, and said the story of what happened to Mili isn’t what everyone thinks it is, and that he’s faced death threats ever since the story broke:
[Lanyard] Burgett contends that young Mili had nothing to do with the Azzurri girls’ team being kicked out of the Springfield tournament Saturday night. He says he disqualified three Azzurri teams, not just Mili’s. Yes, there was a dispute over whether Mili was a girl that became even more confusing when the team’s roster, a list that has been used for months, had an “M” for male next to her name. There are 14 girls on that roster, and the only one who fell victim to the typo is the kid who just happens to have short hair. How that happened remains unclear.
The story also notes Burgett had the signature of Mo Farivari, Azzurri’s director, on a document acknowledging teams could be kicked out for violating rules, including players on multiple teams. This was Farivari’s response to ESPNW.com:
Farivari doesn’t deny that the club had players competing on multiple teams during the tournament. Three girls on Mili’s team also played for Azzurri’s 11/12 boys’ team during the tournament. So did a few players on the club’s 10-and-under boys’ team. But Farivari says they’ve done this before, it’s legal at his tournament, and he was never told that it was against Springfield’s rules. Farivari is also convinced Mili’s team was disqualified because of the gender controversy.
“The only reason he disqualified them,” Farivari says, “is because Mili looks like a boy and is listed [with] a typo on the roster. I went over this to clarify, but he didn’t want to listen.”
So it appears one of two things (or perhaps both) happened: the tournament director insensitively dismissed Mili’s team because he insisted she was a boy, no matter what the evidence offered, or Mili’s team director is covering for violating tournament rules by putting a child front and center. As so often happens, adults couldn’t figure out how to organize sports without, well, being adults about it.