“#FreeTheFro” has become the rally cry across the fruited plain for a teenage runner who was disqualified from a state championship meet because he was wearing a headband adorned with a Bible verse.
John Green, a senior at Georgia’s West Forsyth High School, was stripped of his third place victory just moments after crossing the finish line on Nov. 7th.
He was wearing a white headband adorned with the words “Isaiah 40:30-31” -- a most appropriate verse for a cross country runner.
There’s photographic evidence that other runners were wearing headbands — including the eventual winner. Yet only John was disqualified.
“Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
The headband met the approval of one referee. But another ordered him to turn it inside-out. John complied with the referee’s instructions.
However, just moments before the race a third referee ordered him to completely remove the headband. That posed a significant safety problem.
John has a fairly impressive mane of hair — and the race conditions were wet and muddy. His coaches feared it would cause him trouble on the race course. So they ordered him to follow the instructions of the second referee.
Once he crossed the finish line -- he was disqualified.
To be clear — John was disqualified for breaking a rule that doesn’t exist.
The Georgia High School Association admits they do not have a ban on headbands.
But they do have a rule that allows referees to make up any rules not covered within the rules. And on race day, the referee decided that a headband was in fact just like a beanie, toboggan or ear covers – which is against the rules – unless they are unadorned.
That’s all well and good - but it appears the GHSA was selectively enforcing the rule. There’s photographic evidence that other runners were wearing headbands — including the eventual winner. Yet only John was disqualified.
The GHSA rejected a request by West Forsyth High School to reinstate John — so the disqualification stands.
Meanwhile, the school district is taking great umbrage at the governing body’s handling of the incident.
“We stand behind our coach and runner,” Forsyth County Schools said in a statement. “Forsyth County Schools has no reason to believe that they are not being truthful in regards to the events surrounding this disqualification.”
The district heaped praise on John as well as Coach Clayton Tillery — calling him a “successful veteran coach with high moral and ethical standards.”
Fellow classmates along with Christians from around the nation have taken up John’s cause - flooding the GHSA with telephone calls and emails urging them to reinstate the young man with the impressive hair-do.
#FreeTheFro became their rally cry on Twitter.
But the question remains — why was John disqualified while other runners escaped punishment? Was he really tossed out because of the Bible verse?
However, John’s father is not so sure. He told the Forsyth County News that he did not believe the referees had a problem with the religious nature of his son’s headband.
The GHSA agrees with John’s dad.
“The fact that it was of a religious nature did not enter the decision whatsoever,” they wrote in a prepared statement.
But Georgia Congressman Douglas Collins seems to think otherwise.
“Religious expression being squashed right here in the Ninth District,” the Republican lawmaker tweeted. “This is outrageous.”
I’m not sure what to believe - but there is one indisputable fact - runners who did not have Bible verses on their headbands were not punished.
And John Green was.
Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary, heard on hundreds of radio stations. His latest book is "God Less America: Real Stories From the Front Lines of the Attack on Traditional Values." Follow Todd on Twitter @ToddStarnes and find him on Facebook.