Mili Hernandez has short but poignant answers for the myriad questions she’s been receiving this week about her hair.
Why does the 8-year-old from Nebraska keep her locks trimmed to a not-quite pixie cut? It stays out of her face during a match, she told the Omaha World-Herald.
And why did her teammates line up after a recent practice to get their locks snipped, one-by-one?
The 8-year-old soccer standout’s hair has rocketed her to stardom – and to the center of the debate about gender and sports. Her father and the president of her soccer club said someone accused her team of admitting a boy to an all-girl squad because Mili “looks like a boy.”
She’s not – she just keeps her hair cut short – but the complaint cost her team the game. Tournament officials stuck to their decision, even though Mili’s father showed up to the tournament with proof that she is, in fact, a girl.
Her team, the Azurri Achurros, was disqualified from the final game. There would be no trophies that day.
What Mili got instead was support and encouragement from some of the biggest soccer stars on the planet.
And, with a few snips from a pair of scissors, she received a show of solidarity from her teammates.
“Mili is like family to me. She’s part of my team.” Erika Ortez, a 10-year-old who cut off more than six inches of hair Thursday, told the World-Herald. “So I really felt like it was necessary to support her.”
So did Mia Hamm, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and the co-owner of the Los Angeles Football Club, who invited Mili to a Team First Soccer Academy camp. And Abby Wambach, who also has two gold medals, showed off her own close-cropped hair in an Instagram video dedicated to Mili.
“Mili,” she tweeted, “don’t EVER let anyone tell you that you aren’t perfect just as you are. i won championships with short hair.”
In an Instragram post, Wambach wrote: Dear Mili Hernandez, you are amazing in every way. Thank you for teaching us how to be brave and shining a light on something so hurtful. If you don’t know, she is my new hero. Her team was disqualified from a tourney cause they thought she was a boy because of a clerical error that wasn’t handled properly. Let’s meet soon sister.
Meanwhile, the Nebraska State Soccer Association announced that it is investigating the Ray Heimes Springfield Soccer Invitational and is conducting a detailed review of what happened.
“While Nebraska State Soccer did not oversee the Springfield Tournament, we recognize that our core values were simply not present this past weekend at this tournament and we apologize to this young girl, her family and her soccer club for this unfortunate misunderstanding,” the association said in a lengthy statement on Twitter.
In an email to The Post, tournament director Lanyard Burgett said while there were complaints that a boy was playing on an all-girls team, the three teams that played for the Azzurri soccer clubs were being investigated for swapping players between teams. A separate complaint was made about a boy playing on the girl’s team.
But the reason Mili’s team was disqualified was because of the swapping issue, he said, not Mili’s looks.
“At no time was a child prohibited from playing because of their looks,” Burgett’s statement said. “No tournament staff ever said a child was not allowed to play because they looked like a boy. . . 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.”