Organizers at a Nebraska soccer tournament recently disqualified Mili Hernandez and her team from participating in the tournament’s final match. The reason was not Mili’s age. (Mili is 8 years old, and she plays—legally—on Azzurri Cachorros’s 11-year-old girls’ club team.) Nor was it a problem with the team’s forms or other official paperwork.
The problem was that tournament officials insisted that Mili was a boy.
In addition to being a soccer player who’s good enough to play up a few age groups, Mili has short hair. And she likes it that way.
“When my hair starts to grow, I put it short because I’ve always had short hair,” Mili explained to WOWT 6 News. “I didn’t like my hair long.”
Yet Mili’s insistence that she was a girl—a girl who, like many others, has short hair—was not enough to sway the Springfield Soccer Club tournament officials. Her parents even attempted to remedy the situation by producing Mili’s insurance card. The clear “F” under “Sex” on that card did not change the officials’ minds, either.
“Just because I look like a boy doesn’t mean I am a boy,” added Mili in her interview with WOWT 6 News. “But they don’t have a reason to kick the whole club out.”
This, however, is precisely what the tournament organizers did.
The Springfield Soccer Club tournament has not made any public comment on the situation. They have also directed any further questions to their attorney and the Nebraska State Soccer Association. Yet without further information, their decision seems undeniably sexist. And the fact that this sexism was directed at a child makes Mili’s disqualification especially pernicious.
What, for instance, made tournament officials feel compelled to claim that Mili is a boy? Was it her haircut? Her skill on the soccer field? Her way or moving or talking? The clothes she wore in between games? Her name?
None of these characteristics is inherently—or biologically—male. To claim otherwise is to perpetuate myths about sex and gender that limit girls’ (and boys’) appearance and skills and mannerisms to the narrowest confines: confines that, frankly, should have been disqualified from the public imagination decades ago.
Though upset with the disqualification itself, Mili’s father, Gerardo Hernandez, is still proud of his daughter. “It’s what she likes. It’s what she’s always wanted, to play soccer.”
In a post on the CLUB Cachorros soccer team’s Facebook page, the club described the event as an especially unpleasant form of soccer tournament elimination—one that demonstrates “the racism we live [with] today.”
But Mili isn’t letting just one narrow-minded decision get her down. She’s looking forward to playing soccer again—albeit in different tournaments.
When asked directly if she thought the tournament organizers’ decision was fair, Mili simply said, “No.” After a follow-up question, she added that the decision made her feel “not happy.”
Her responses were short and awesome, just like her hair.