Back in June, the soccer world was shook by the story of an 8-year-old girl named Milli Hernandez. Because Hernandez has short hair and someone had mistakenly marked her as a boy on official documents, she was banned from playing a soccer tournament with her team.
Soccer legends such as Mia Hamm and Abby Wambach reached out to Hernandez to encourage her to continue playing the game keep her hair however she likes — and plenty of people who never played soccer as a child were suddenly aware of how much gender discrimination still happens for kids on these teams.
Unfortunately, Hernandez isn't the only girl to go through it. Three girls on a soccer team in Wisconsin have opened up about the bullying they face over their short haircuts, and their parents and coach are fighting back.
Mira Wilde, 10, Stella Blau, 11, and Adah Lacocque, 10, have all faced discrimination for their short hair, from opposing coaches, referees, and tournament officials who just won't believe that they're not boys.
"They say, 'They're too good. They move like boys,'" Lacocque's mother Julie Minikel-Lacocque, told USA Today. "All these players have experienced the same discrimination, and I really would call it that. From teams demanding passports and accusations of cheating. It's incredibly damaging to the girls."
As Minikel-Lacocque points out, this isn't just an issue of mistaken identity. The underlying assumption from opposing coaches and referees insisting that these girls are actually boys and that the team is therefore cheating is that girls couldn't possibly be good enough or strong enough to play the way they do.
"It's not that uncommon that my players are mistaken for boys, and they shrug it off casually because they are rockstars!" the girls' coach, Molly Duffy, wrote on Facebook. "But when an adult does not correct their thinking and continues to question their gender and identity, my players are negatively impacted."
The girls once won a soccer tournament, but didn't get the congratulations they deserved when they went up to get their medals, their parents told USA Today. Instead, a referee told them that they didn't deserve to win because they had played with boys on the team.
And it doesn't end there. In her Facebook post, Duffy detailed a time when an opposing coach demanded that she prove her players were all girls by showing their birth certificates. Yet, when she presented him with their playing cards, which require coaches to prove a player's gender via their birth certificate, he still didn't believe her.
The bullying and discrimination inspired Duffy, the girls, and their parents to create t-shirts to "remind everyone that power doesn’t come from a haircut, but from a passion for the game as well as the freedom to be who you are."
The shirts say "Sixer Strong" (for their team, the Madison 56ers) on the back and call attention to Title IX — the law that bans gender-based discrimination in education. It's emblazoned with a slogan that gives these girls back a little bit of power grown adults have tried to take away from them: "Try and keep up."
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