Nine girls on a youth soccer team in Nebraska cut their hair on Thursday in solidarity with their 8-year-old teammate who has found herself at the center of a national controversy.
“They care,” Mili Hernandez, the girl at the center of the debate, told the Omaha World-Herald.
Last week, Mili, who sports a pixie-style haircut, made national headlines when her family told numerous media outlets that her soccer team had been disqualified from the Springfield Soccer Club tournament after their daughter was mistaken for a boy.
“They only did it because I look like a boy,” Mili told local news station WOWT 6.
The Springfield Soccer Club, which organizes the tournament, says Mili’s hair had nothing to do with what happened. They say that the girl was listed on the team’s roster as “male,” which is what ultimately led to the disqualification.
But Mili still believes her hair played a role. Her family said that they showed officials identification and insurance cards to prove is legally recognized as female, but it didn’t make a difference.
“They just weren’t listening,” Mili told local CBS affiliate KMTV. “They said I looked like a boy.”
And tournament director Lanyard Burgett later gave a completely different reason for the disqualification. He told The Washington Post that the real cause was an issue related to teams illicitly swapping players, and had nothing to do with Mili.
“The male player on a female roster was discovered in the middle of working through the player swapping issue and has been incorrectly identified as the reason for dismissal,” Burgett said.
In any case, the devotion of Mili’s teammates to their friend is clear. Photos and video (above) show the girls proudly displaying their cut-off ponytails on the field.
“It was scary,” 10-year-old Erika Ortiz told the World-Herald. “But it made me feel good to support Mili.”