Milagros “Mili” Hernandez has had a lot of success on the soccer field. She’s so skilled, the 8-year-old girl is allowed to play on an Omaha, Nebraska club team with 11-year-olds.
Unfortunately, this past weekend, it wasn’t Mili’s talent that made her part of a viral news story but the fact that she was mistaken for a boy, and then disqualified along with her entire team from their soccer tournament semifinals game because of it.
While Mili’s family believes she was disqualified because officials thought she was a boy (and therefore not allowed to play on a girls team), Springfield Invitational tournament officials maintains that the reason Mili and her team got the heave-ho was because Mili was listed as a boy on their official team roster, reports WOWT.
It’s unclear how this error happened. But even when Mili’s father presented tournament officials with Mili’s insurance card, which indicated that she is female, tournament brass didn’t budge. The Nebraska State Soccer Association has since issued an apology to Mili and her family, and the group is investigating what went wrong at the tournament.
While Mili seems to be taking the mix-up in stride, being identified as the wrong gender can have a big impact on kids, says Health contributing psychology editor Gail Saltz, MD. “It could be very insulting and hurtful, particularly to a young person who may be insecure and who may be trying to fit it, and putting stock into what someone else thinks of them,” she says.
Dr. Saltz believes that society is much more open to gender fluidity now, which may be why the story has generated such outrage. “I think for women and girls, the idea that ‘I would be strong and athletically capable and be shamed for that,’ I think that’s the crux of what’s disturbed people,” she said.
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Luckily, Mili has received an outpouring of support from star female athletes, including Billie Jean King and Mia Hamm—who invited Mili to her TeamFirst Soccer Academy on Twitter. Abby Wambach posted a supportive video on Instagram.
“I want to tell you a few things,” Olympic medalist Wambach said in her post. “You don’t look like a boy. You look like a girl with short hair, and that’s okay. Also, I know somebody else who has short hair, she’s won gold medals and a World Cup, and US Soccer Player of the Year and FIFA Player of the Year. You can do anything you want to do and be anything you want to be, and guess what? You can look like whatever you need to look like to do it.”
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.