Forced hair cutting is a right of passage for boys all across the country. If your lax parents don't make you, your school sports team, the military, or potential employers are happy to step in and demand "clean cut" grooming. But apparently that is discriminatory against boys, because nobody requires girls to get pixie cuts.
It's a case where the legal reasoning is completely sound, and also entirely stupid...
Our case comes from a school basketball team in Indiana. Just think back to the movie Hoosiers: Gene Hackman had hair, all the players had crew cuts. Spoiler alert: team unity helped the white team beat the bigger, stronger, more talented team of black people at the end.
Cutting your hair is supposed to be a sign of subordinating your individual characteristics to the will of the team. But one Millennial player didn't like that. He cut his hair to be on the seventh grade basketball team, but complained that he "didn't feel like himself." So he grew his hair back out. The coach warned him that he needed to cut his hair to play on the eighth grade team. He didn't. The coach kicked him off the team.
Now, we know Millennials really think that their "feelings" are super important, and that's fine, as long as they also learn that feelings have "consequences." If you feel like your hair is that important to you, then you have to make a choice.
But parents of Millennials don't want their kids to have to make tough choices... and they certainly don't want their kids to experience any consequences for their actions. The parents sued the school for forcing their kid to choose between "the game he loved," and "feeling like himself." Whatever.
The parents lost at trial, but this week the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the parents. Their reasoning was that boys playing sports in Indiana couldn't be forced to cut their hair, when girls playing sports in Indiana were not. From the ruling, as reported by the Wall Street Journal Law Blog:
"What we have before us is a policy that draws an explicit distinction between male and female athletes and imposes a burden on male athletes alone," Judge Ilana D. Rovner wrote for the majority.
The judge continued, "Girls playing interscholastic basketball have the same need as boys do to keep their hair out of their eyes, to subordinate individuality to team unity, and to project a positive image. Why, then, must only members of the boys team wear their hair short?"
I mean, sure. Of course it's discriminatory. The Seventh Circuit is spot on. Indiana has a rule that doesn't apply to boys and girls equally. Bad Indiana.
But what the court didn't get to was the equally important "so the hell what" argument. Boys are required to cut their hair while girls are not. In other breaking news, boys can be forced to wear athletic protectors to guard against getting hit in the balls while girls, as far as I know, don't have exposed testicles that can be used against them. Different things are different. This isn't a gender discrimination issue, this is about a teenager who doesn't want to cut his hair. Are we really saying that you can't legally make a teenager cut his freaking hair?
Let's put that argument in the form of a legal dissent from the Seventh Circuit:
Judge Daniel A. Manion dissented, saying a grooming policy isn't necessarily discriminatory just because the codes for girls and boys aren't identical. "Distinction is not discrimination," he wrote. "Requiring men, but not women, to keep their hair at a certain length has never been held to be unequally burdensome."
The school plans to appeal, maybe all the way up to the Supreme Court. In the meantime, here's a protip for boys: Get over your hair! If the state doesn't make you cut it, God will take it away from you faster than you think.