An Edmond native is back home in Oklahoma, after he says he was kicked off his college basketball team in Fort Smith, Arkansas because of his hairstyle.
Tyler Williams is finishing up his college career at Southern Nazarene University, but he says it was not by choice.
Tyler returned to UAFS as the top scorer on his team, ready to take on his senior year. But he had a bone to pick with the new coach, Jim Boone, about his dreadlocks.
“Tyler told him, this is what comes out of my head. I’ve been playing with this all these years, but he didn’t want to hear it,” Tyler’s mother Tiffani Williams said. “He kicked him off the team two days before school started.”
Boone's attorney told News 9 in a statement that the coach is admittedly old school and has never allowed players to wear long hair. Boone also claims Tyler left because he was threatened by the new players he was recruiting.
Tiffani responded, “If you’re a free throw shooter and you’re leading the conference, you’re not cowering down from no one, so everything he said on audio contradicts what the attorney said.”
Boone’s attorney, Tom Mars, also said in the statement that Tyler had a grievance that his locker was moved to a new place, but Mars said the coach had “nothing to do with locker assignments.”
Tyler’s father Reginald said, “It just so happens, the person he gave Tyler’s locker to was the person he brought in and recruited himself. Prior to that, Tyler has worn the number 1. He wore it the previous year, and this is his senior year. He wanted to finish out wearing the number he started. The coach told him, ‘nobody on my team wears number 1,’ so Tyler conceded and said, ‘well, I’ll have number two.’ He told him, ‘you can’t have number two. The guy I’m bringing in is going to have number two.’”
Tyler legally recorded a conversation with the coach, which his parents shared with News 9.
A voice can be heard saying, “It’s not that we don’t recruit them, but we make it very clear that once they get in here, they’re not going to have their hair that way. I told you, though, since you were here before me, I didn’t think it was fair for me to tell you, you needed to cut your hair and that I was going to let you have it.”
Tyler responded on the recording, “But that’s like basically you saying you’re not going to bring anybody in with hair like mine.”
“Probably not,” the coach responded.
That would mean Tyler's two younger brothers and countless other players nationwide would not be welcome at UAFS. As the conversation continued, Tyler learned, neither was he.
As Tyler pushed for answers, the coach said in the recording, “We’re not going to do this. You don’t need to be here. You don’t need to be here. You don’t need to be a part of this team.”
UAFS sent News 9 a statement saying, in part, that it would not tolerate racism or retaliation. The school is currently investigating the claims, but the Williams family wants a formal apology and for Boone to be removed from his coaching position.
Since the transfer, his parents say Tyler is doing well and now gets to play on the same team as his cousin, but he will have to graduate a semester late, and they do not know yet who will pay for it.
“Many people think racism or discrimination doesn’t exist,” Tyler’s father Reginald said. “It’s alive and well. It just happened to be hiding behind my son’s hair.”
Read UAFS Chancellor Dr. Terisa Riley full statement after the incident between Tyler and Coach Boone below:
By now, many of you have read about an allegation of discrimination based on race which has been widely publicized on social media involving a head coach and a former student. Today, my message is sent in the spirit of transparency which I have promised to you as your chancellor.
First, the university received a copy of the allegation from a student and his parents approximately two weeks ago. At that time, the allegation was sent to the university’s EEO officer in the Department of Human Resources to be investigated. This is our standard practice for investigating any allegations of wrong-doing against employees of the university. The Department of Human Resources has not issued a final report; thus, I will not comment on specifics of the investigation in order to protect the rights of the employee and former student.
The University of Arkansas-Fort Smith will not tolerate racism or retaliation. We never want a student to leave the university feeling disrespected or devalued, and this situation serves as a powerful reminder that we must continually assess and work to create an inclusive environment that values all members of our community.”
News 9 will continue to monitor any developments in this case.