Photo: Patrick Smith (Getty)

In the midst of play a few weeks ago, WNBA player Liz Cambage’s arm got all wrapped up in her opponent Kalani Brown’s hair. At first the tangle seemed to be an accident, but soon there was pushing and shoving and intentional hair-pulling, and Cambage walked away from the encounter with a flagrant foul.

Anyone who has ever had long hair (or a very determined younger sister) knows that hair-yanking is an inciting behavior. Pulling someone’s hair is the physical equivalent of calling someone a whiny baby. It hurts, sure, but it’s also just subtly demeaning enough to start a war. In a professional sport, hair-pulling –in addition to being deeply rude—can be very dangerous. But is it always strictly illegal? Through some combination of boredom and a need to gain specific answers to my strange questions, I reached out to every major American sports league to find out what their official stance on hair-pulling is.

MLB:

No rule on hair pulling.

A representative from Major League Baseball says that MLB has no league-wide rules regarding hair or hair pulling. Since baseball is not a contact-sport, though, it is safe to assume that pulling an opponent’s hair unnecessarily would lead to disciplinary action.

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NFL:

Currently legal for defenders to make tackles by pulling hair.

In 2003, the “Ricky Rule” (named after Ricky Williams) was passed deeming hair a part of the player’s uniform. But in October 2018, Al Riveron, the senior vice president of officiating, said that rule might be reevaluated.

NWHL:

Hair-pulling is not allowed.

IIHF Rule 156 i. (PULLING HAIR, HELMET, CAGE) states, “A player who grabs or holds the cage or helmet, or pulls the hair of an opponent, will be assessed either a minor penalty or a major and automatic game-misconduct penalty.”

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NHL:

Hair-pulling is not allowed.

The NHL specifically bans hair-pulling in its rule book. Rule 75.2 (ii) reads: “Any player who is guilty of unsportsmanlike conduct including, but not limited to hair-pulling, biting, grabbing hold of a face mask, etc. If warranted, and specifically when injury results, the referee may apply Rule 21 - Match Penalties.”

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WNBA:

Hair-pulling is not allowed.

There is no specific rule in the WNBA about pulling hair, but no part of a player can be grabbed legally during play. Punishment for grabbing (or yanking or pulling) is determined by the referee.

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NBA:

Hair-pulling is not allowed.

There is no specific rule in the NBA about hair, but no part of a player can be grabbed legally during play. Punishment for grabbing (or yanking or pulling) is determined by the referee.

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MMA:

Hair-pulling is not allowed.

“Pulling of the hair in any fashion is an illegal action,” the MMA rulebook reads.

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MLS:

Hair-pulling is not allowed.

“Regarding a ‘hair pulling’ offense, that certainly is not an allowable action and it would be deemed ‘violent conduct’ by MLS and the Professional Referee Organization. Hair pulling or ruffling of the hair is seen in the same light as any action of hands to the face, head or neck, and it is potentially a red card offense,” a representative of MLS said in a statement.

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NWSL:

Hair-pulling is not allowed.

The NWSL does not have a set rule against hair pulling, but it is almost always a penalty. “However, when an incident occurs, there is a disciplinary committee that gets together to determine a punishment. That can be a suspension, fine, or both,” a spokesperson for the NWSL says. In 2017, Tyler Lussi was suspended for three games for yanking an opponent to the ground by her ponytail.

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Premier League:

Hair-pulling is not allowed.

There is no official rule in the IFAB “Laws of the Game” against hair-pulling, but similarly to the NWSL and MLS, intentionally pulling the hair of an opponent on the pitch can be called a penalty by the referee.

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USA Rugby

Hair-pulling is not allowed.

The refereeing rulebook for Rugby in the United States states a minimum of a 2-week suspension for “lower-end” hair pulling or grabbing.

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World Boxing

Hair-pulling is not allowed.

A representative from World Boxing Federation says “not allowed!”