When 9-year-old Aubrey Ramos was sidelined before her soccer game last weekend because of her hair beads, her mom was devastated.
Aubrey had been wearing the beads in her hair for years, with no issues on the field, her mother Amy Zvovushe-Ramos told ABC News. But the referee said she had to remove them or sit the game out.
"It takes a trip to the salon each week and an hour to remove the beads," Zvovushe-Ramos said. "It's not something that could be done on the sidelines. We offered to put her hair up in the scrunchie for the game but were told no."
Zvovushe-Ramos said she tried to contact a regional representative from the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) from the game to no avail. She spent the next few days trying to reach people at the regional and national level with no resolution. On Tuesday, she took to Facebook.
AYSO does have a rule about wearing jewelry during games. Aubrey's mom said it's a rule the nine-year-old knows well. She goes to great lengths "not to do anything wrong. She's a straight-edge girl," her mom added, nothing that she takes off her jewelry before every game.
But there is no mention of hair adornments, such as beads, in AYSO Laws and Regulations or the FIFA Laws of the Game, which the AYSO looks to for guidance. On Wednesday night, the organization posted a clarification on their web site.
"AYSO clearly dropped the ball by not specifying 'hair jewelry"' in the rules handbook and leaving it subjective to the refs," Zvovushe-Ramos told ABC News.
"It also raises the question 'How many young Caucasian children wear hair jewelry?' It's inherently discriminatory to create a rule like this that would target predominantly African American hair styles," she said. "Now without any form of remorse from AYSO, if I do take the beads out so she can play, in the eyes of a 9-year-old it looks like she was in the wrong."
Zvovushe-Ramos said she hadn't decided if she would remove the beads for Aubrey's Friday practice or weekend game.
AYSO National Director Mike Hoyer told ABC News that player safety is the primary concern of the organization and that it is subjective. While the organization does not feel the referee did anything wrong, Hoyer said they did feel badly about how Aubrey was made to feel and had sent a letter of apology for that to the family. Hoyer also said the coach would apologize to Aubrey at Friday's practice.
The organization is staffed largely by volunteers, he said, and this incident made it clear more communication needs to happen at the local level. He denies this is a cultural sensitivity issue in the organization and said this is all about player safety and communication.
Going forward, he said, "the rules [about jewelry] will be communicated and enforced from the early days of play," in hopes, he said, that this kind of misunderstanding never happens again. "A medical alert bracelet is the only exception to the no jewelry rule. These conversations need to happen between the coaches, parents, the people who know each other and have been playing together for years."