Most black people have heard criticism over their natural hair at some point in their lives. It goes something like, “You know, you would look more professional if you wore your hair straight. Or short. Or back in a bun. Your hair is not going to look good on the green screen; pull it back.” After all, sleek and straight hair is considered the professional norm, while dreadlocks, Afros and big curls are thought to be unruly and unkempt.
Nigel Hayes, a 2017 NBA draft prospect and four-year player out of the University of Wisconsin who made three All-Big Ten teams during his time in Madison, knows a little something about being challenged for the way he keeps his hair. Hayes, who wears his hair in dreadlocks, posted to Twitter on Wednesday morning an email interaction with a fan who told him that he needed to “clean up” his look:
I guess a black male's naturally dreaded hair in a ponytail isn't fit for NBA teams/communities. As well as, it seems, professional society. pic.twitter.com/9zdnyygyR9
— Nigel Hayes (@NIGEL_HAYES) May 17, 2017
“But now one thing, what the heck crazy odd hairdo [sic] are you having on the top of your head?” the emailer wrote to Hayes. “You mentioned to television sports reporters that you worry that younger student athletes will be better than yourself and get a chance to advance to the professionals…sure true, but who wants a handsome nice guy like you with such a bizarre hair-do as what you got?”
The email went on to suggest that Hayes go see some barbers who could give him a “nice haircut and side-bur trim and professional appearance.”
“Then for sure you will get picked to be on a pro basketball team looking better and more classy for their team and community,” reasoned the woman who sent the email.
What this person may or may not realize they are pointing out: she is inadvertently asking Hayes to whiten his look in order to be accepted. Hayes, for his part, didn’t seem to appreciate the suggestion.
“I guess a black male’s naturally dreaded hair in a ponytail isn’t fit for NBA teams/communities,” he wrote. “As well as, it seems, professional society.”
Hayes is no stranger to speaking out. Throughout his college career, Hayes was known for discussing racial injustice. He became a household name when he showed up to ESPN’s “College GameDay” broadcast holding a sign reading, “Broke College Athlete. Anything Helps,” to jokingly voice his frustration with the NCAA’s unwillingness to pay student players.
Hayes is also far from the first black male athlete to get flack for his hairstyle. When former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began wearing his hair in an Afro, his detractors offered criticism and made racist comments. Basketball Hall of Famer Allen Iverson was famously told his preference for wearing his hair in braids was “too ghetto.”
But it simply isn’t true that dreadlocks are not accepted in the NBA. Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried wears long dreads, as does respected Houston Rockets veteran Nene. The Boston Celtics’ Jae Crowder has dreads; they clearly haven’t affected his ability to play, as his team gets set to play in the Eastern Conference finals. Taurean Prince of the Atlanta Hawks wears dreads; Jordan Hill of the Minnesota Timberwolves wears them, too. The list goes on and on.
For what it’s worth, Hayes’ alma mater appears to have his back:
— UW-Madison (@UWMadison) May 17, 2017
The 22-year-old Hayes averaged 14 points and 6.6 rebounds per game for Wisconsin in the 2016-17 season, and attended last week’s 2017 NBA draft combine to showcase his talents for prospective suitors. Whether he hears his name called at the 2017 NBA draft on June 22 remains to be seen — for what it’s worth, DraftExpress’ latest mock draft has Hayes going undrafted — but it seems likely that his chances of reaching the NBA will be based more on the consistency (or lack thereof) of his jump shot than on his chosen hairdo.
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