Student cut from high school football team for wearing pink cleats

Coy Sheppard, a Mississippi high school student, has filed suit against his school district after he was kicked off the football team for wearing pink cleats.


Oh, and the cleats were given to Sheppard by his great-grandmother and worn in honor of her and Sheppard’s grandmother, both cancer survivors, as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

For real.

Apparently the link to breast cancer wasn’t enough to allay coach Chris Peterson’s overwhelming fear of pink. Yes, the deadly emasculating power of this color is so great that even when worn as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month pink cleats are too great a threat to football to be allowed.

Telling a student he can’t wear pink cleats in honor of cancer survivors in his family is just cruel. Coach Peterson’s wild overreaction is a reminder of just how frightening anything that breaks the incredibly rigid rules of gender can be to binary gender defenders.

Good for Coy Sheppard for standing up to this bullying by a teacher!

Oh, and this is the same state where Constance McMillen was told she couldn’t bring her girlfriend to prom. Seriously, what is going on in Mississippi schools?

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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  • Jill Gaulding

    Well, it sounds like the same thing that is going on in Iowa, where, yes, the University of Iowa still has an officially sanctioned Pink Locker Room to shame the opposing football team. (But let’s not be confused; gender shaming is not limited to the so-called “fly over states” or to the world of sports. It’s just one easy place to find it.)

    • Jen Henry

      I am also from Hawkeye Country. I had always heard the locker room was pink because pink was a soothing and pleasant color. The goal was for the opposing team to become relaxed in the locker room and lose focus and play poorly. No gender shaming. Just comfortable amenities.

  • Emily

    There actually is a perfectly logical reason to avoid bright colored shoes or gloves in games, and that’s because they are more noticable. If a receiver is running to catch a pass, and someone from the opposite team running to make an interception and wearing pink gloves or cleats, the receiver is more likely to see it him out of the corner of his eye and prevent it. I heard a lot of comments about that when players in the NFL were wearing pink, and I can definitely understand why a coach wouldn’t want his team playing games with brightly colored cleats. However, practicing in those shoes shouldn’t matter. Also, since the kid is a kicker, he won’t have to worry about sneaking up on people, They already know he’s there. The article doesn’t make it clear if the student tried to wear them at a game or not.

    • z

      Yeah, it took me a few different articles to get the whole picture.

      Based on looking at several different articles, there was no rule about shoe color and the boy had worn different colored cleats before without incident. He did wear them to a game and was made fun of by the coach (though never told not to wear them). When he showed up at the following practice, he was told he couldn’t wear them for the first time and said he would take them off at the end of practice (I’m going to assume he had no other cleats with him, but that’s an assumption) but that wasn’t sufficient for the coach and he was kicked off.

      I understand having uniform rules for various reasons, but in this case it looks like the boy wasn’t breaking any established rules and when he offered to comply with the request at the next practice, he was kicked off the team. If it were for reasons such as you suggest, I’m guessing that changing them by the next practice would have been fine.

    • spiffy-mcbang

      There was a news video on the story that made the point other players had worn smaller pink items, like gloves. (Parts of the gloves were pink, not the entire things.) It seemed pretty clear that, while what you say is true, it probably had little to do with the coach’s consternation.

      What may also be at play is that it’s the kicker. Kickers are generally disregarded as not “really” football players because they’re specialists who rarely hit or get hit. It could be that the coach was more likely to get on the kicker than a position player for that reason.

    • Isabel

      I understand the need to limit possibly distracting elements, but the real question is whether the coach would have reacted as harshly if the cleats were orange or green, or some other bright color that isn’t pink. This may be unfair to the coach, but my immediate reaction is to say it probably would not have been as big an issue.

  • Tryingtosmile

    While there might be something resembling a legitimate concern for those playing professional football (I’m still a little skeptical though) at the high school level I really doubt it makes much of a difference. Several boys on my brother’s football team (and other teams throughout the conference) played with pink wristbands, shoes and socks in the month of October and there was no difference in the level of play or tackle rate.

    This story seems really ridiculous to me and makes me wonder if something else was going on with the coach or the team. Although, as mentioned above, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised considering what else has come out of the Mississippi school system as of late.

    Anyone else see the note at the bottom about the girl suing because her school wouldn’t let her wear a tux in a year book picture? Seriously?!?

  • Winter Trabex

    Someone forgot to tell this high school coach that the Pittsburgh Steelers work pink cleats a few weeks back.

    As far as Mississippi…there’s a reason why John Grisham bases so many of his “legal battle” stories down there.

  • Matt

    The USA Today article suggests that the player was first (rudely) warned about the cleats during a game (Oct 8) and was kicked off the team during the next practice.

    To play devil’s advocate, students aren’t particularly entitled to “free speech” during sporting events. If you are going to allow pink cleats so someone can support Breast Cancer Awareness, you will have to allow just about any other color cleat for just about any reason (AIDS awareness, Transgender Awareness, Animal Protection Awareness, Asthma Awareness, Pro-Life Awareness, Zombie Awareness, etc). A coach is not unjustified in seeking out a consistent uniform for everyone, for the sake of “team unity” and such (as long as it concerns visible articles). It is tempting to look to the NFL and see the use of pink gloves and cleats, but the NFL is a corporation entitled to sending out the messages it wants. Schools, for better or for worse, tend to be more sterile entities.

    Still, it sounds like the coach handled the issue the wrong way at the game. “Dress[ing] down” (that’s a creepy sounding term) a player during a game does not usually invite a good response. A lot of coaches need to learn better leadership skills and to develop a better way of interacting with their players than using intimidation — they need to be able to make a reasonably compelling (brief) argument for why that obedience is necessary, especially in cases where the player is pursuing a “reasonable” course of action.

  • Jenny

    There is no gender policing here people, or any personal aversion to pink cleats.

    The rules of the game for high school football do not allow cleats that are colored.

    If you really want something to complain about on cleats, go bother the NFL About fining Chad Ochocinco $20,000 for wearing orange cleats. That is something that costs as much as a small car.

    • z

      But there is no requirement for this team for cleat color, and this student had worn other colored cleats before without incident. I’m sure some high schools ban colored cleats, but this one did not.

      Also, do such rules really apply to practice? I wouldn’t think that uniforms matter during practice.

  • nicolechat

    “District Deputy Superintendent Tom Duncan said the problem isn’t the color of Coy’s shoes but that the student ignored the orders of his coaches to take off the shoes.”

    Why was the student ordered to remove the shoes if there was no problem with the colour, then?

    Also, I really don’t see how it matters that the shoes might be “distracting.” I don’t know much about football, but if what Emily above me is saying is true, well then, the distraction hardly matters for the kicker, right? And come on – there has to be a line with how seriously one can really take high school sports. I’m not dismissing athleticism, but is the distraction really so great that the other team is doomed to fail? He was supporting cancer survivors.

  • Vanessa

    I wonder if the coach knew of the boys intentions. It’d be one thing if the boy took him aside privately and discussed that he was showing his appreciation for breast cancer awareness month by wearing the sneakers and the coach said no. However, if the student just walked on the field and told the coach he wanted to wear bright pink sneakers, the coach does have the right to enforce his opinion and rules as “coach.”
    Not saying I agree with what happened but, I’m not sure if jumping to the conclusion that the coach was making some great attack about gender roles.

  • Carolyn Dunne

    Even if there is no specific rule saying that you cannot wear an oddly colored pair of shoes, in high school sports you are, for the most part, expected to wear identical uniforms. My high school basketball team would make us give the captains the color scheme we wanted (black, white, or purple combinations only) and then we would all go out with a captain and purchase the same pair of shoes. We were expected to wear them to games and practices for the season.

    Even though there wasn’t a rule for shoes, the women’s varsity all had to have the same color headbands during games or risk getting a technical foul called on us. I never wore headbands during games, but I would every so often in practice, and my coach would tease me about the “throwback” headband I was wearing since it wasn’t the accepted black prewrap.

    A coach expects their players to go with the crowd if there is any question about the uniform code, so the remark during the game was probably an attempt to let the player know that his attire was not accepted. Had the player asked beforehand, he either would not have had any resistance or have learned that he would need to commemorate in some other way.

    I know that sounds harsh, but whether you have a “good” team or not there are expectations for all athletes, both in terms of dress and behavior. The private university I play for now can actually kick athletes off of their team for an entire season if they’re caught with alcohol, even if they are 21 or older. It’s just a part of playing for a school team.

  • Derek Winans

    I find it interesting that during October in the NFL, all the players sport some type of pink accessory for Breast Cancer Awareness; whether it be with shoes, gloves, wristbands, and even sideline hats. It would be easy for a player like Coy to watch the NFL and aspire to be like those players. The fact that they are able to wear pink, which is clearly not apart of their uniform colors, exhibits his right to do so as well. They say that you can not infringe upon team colors and uniform guidelines but if the level of professional football can surpass these guidelines, then why can’t players at the high school level. Especially considering the good cause behind it.

    As mentioned in previous comments, the case of the Iowa locker room is brought up. The common theme of a “feminine quality” such as the color pink brings forth much controversy in male sports. Hopefully one day this can be eliminated and we can advance as an equal community.

    • Derek Winans

      I would like to add that I am currently a student in an introductory Women’s Studies course trying to survey the insight behind reputable blog sites such as this.