Tyler Williams was a guard on the D-II University of Arkansas-Fort Smith Lions men’s basketball team as recently as last month, and he was set to come back for his senior season as the program’s leading returning scorer until he was abruptly dismissed from the team by new head coach Jim Boone on August 16. Williams says he was kicked off because Boone wouldn’t allow players with dreadlocks to play for him.
Williams moved back to Oklahoma and enrolled at Southern Nazarene University, and his story went viral last weekend after a UAFS student released excerpts from a letter sent by the Williams family to the school, where they detail “blatant and demonstrative” discrimination against their son by Boone.
Williams spoke to the Oklahoman and provided the paper with a copy of a recording of his family’s meeting with Boone on August 16. “To kick someone off the team just because of their hair, that’s not right,” Williams said. “I just felt disrespected and devalued after he told me that.”
Per a transcript of the meeting, Williams reminds Boone, “You had talked about my hair and you not liking it and not wanting to recruit anybody with locks like mine.”
It’s not that we don’t recruit them, but we make it very clear that once they get in here they’re not going to have their hair that way. I told you though, because you were here before me, that I didn’t think it was fair for me to tell you you needed to cut your hair, that I was going to let you have it.
Williams then asked if Boone didn’t want to have players on his team “with hair like mine,” and Boone replied, “Probably not.”
Later in the meeting, Boone tells Williams that he has a problem with “the face of our program” having dreadlocks. When Williams’s mother brings up a California law that prevents employers from discriminating against people because of their natural hair, Boone says, “I don’t have to live with that. I don’t live in California so I don’t have to deal with that.”
The Williams family wrote:
Every student-athlete has the right to wear natural hairstyles without fear of repercussions, exclusion, judgment, or feelings of abandonment from a team sport. Tyler must be able to attend school and do his job both on and off the court, without feeling pressure to change his appearance based on someone else’s “comfort level.”
Styles such as dreadlocks, braids, cornrows and, of course, afros, can’t be disentangled from black culture. Boone’s action of policing black hair is a form of pervasive racism and bias.
The full letter can be found here.