It’s now unconstitutional for a high school coach to require boys to get decent haircuts

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A three-judge panel of the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled earlier this week that the haircut policy of the head boys basketball coach at Greensburg High School is unconstitutional.

The coach, Stacy Meyer, has previously maintained an unwritten policy mandating that boys on the basketball team keep their hair above the ears, eyebrows and collar.

In lower court testimony, Meyer said he has enforced his policy because he believes it promotes team unity and projects a wholesome, clean-cut image for athletes.

There has been a similar policy for the boys baseball team at the south-central Indiana high school. The boys track team and the football team have no hair-length policies.

Crucially, as it turns out, no girls sports teams at Greensburg High have formal or informal policies concerning hair length.

The winning plaintiffs in the case are Patrick Hayden and Melissa Hayden on behalf of their son, identified only by the initials A.H.

A.H. is a junior now. As a seventh grader, he cut his hair short so he could play for the junior high basketball team. However, he said, he “just didn’t feel like himself” without flowing locks.

There was much wrangling and at least one move to a different school for awhile but, to make a long story short, A.H. eventually didn’t make the Greensburg High team because he refused to cut his hair. Thus, his parents sued, arguing that the hair-length policy violated a number of state and federal constitutional provisions and statutes.

A federal district court judge ruled against the Haydens. However, the appeals judges overturned that ruling.

The opinion declares, in part:

Coach Meyer’s policy prohibits far more than an Age-of-Aquarius, Tiny-Tim, hair-crawling-past-the-shoulders sort of hair style — it compels all male basketball players to wear genuinely short hair. In 2014, it is not obvious that any and all hair worn over the ears, collar, or eyebrows would be out of the mainstream among males in the Greensburg community at large, among the student body, or among school athletes. (Even one or two men on this court might find themselves in trouble with Coach Meyer for hair over the ears.)

The 39-page opinion is at least as complex as you’d expect a 39-page opinion to be. It doesn’t say that schools must have identical grooming standards for boys and girls. The court’s focus, as blogger and constitutional law professor Ann Althouse notes, hones in on the fact that boys at Greensburg High must follow strict rules about haircuts while girls have no rules about haircuts at all.

Such a de facto policy at a school violates the equal protection clause, the court said.

“Surely girls with longer hair must do something to keep their hair out of their eyes while playing basketball,” the opinion proclaims. “[B]oys with longer hair could do the same. In fact, male athletes use head and hair bands to do this very thing, as anyone who has watched professional basketball or football games recently can confirm.”

A PDF version of the full opinion, Hayden v. Greensburg Community School, is available here.

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