Posted on September 17, 2004

U. of South Florida: Uniform Can Be Altered

AP, Miami Herald, Sep. 13

TAMPA — (AP) — The University of South Florida will ask the NCAA to grant an exemption to its uniform policy by allowing a Muslim basketball player to wear clothing that adheres to her religion.

Andrea Armstrong, a 22-year-old Muslim convert, said she left the team and lost her athletic scholarship last week after her head coach told her she could not wear religiously mandated clothing during practices or games. She wanted to wear long pants, a top with long sleeves and a head scarf.

USF officials said Armstrong voluntarily left the team and was under no pressure to do so.

In a meeting Friday among Armstrong, university officials and a representative of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, officials agreed that the team would accommodate her Islamic attire and reinstate her scholarship. The university also agreed to work with the National Collegiate Athletic Association on the scarf issue.

“An athlete should not be asked to choose between engaging in healthy sporting activities and her deeply held religious beliefs,” said Ahmed Bedier, who took part in the meeting as Florida spokesman for the American-Islamic council.

“She is a valuable member of the team,” said university spokeswoman Michelle Carlyon.

There are five pages of rules about uniforms in the NCAA’s basketball rule book, but none of them mention religious issues. All team members are required to wear the same uniform.

The NCAA offices in Indianapolis were closed Saturday, and calls to a NCAA spokesman were not immediately returned.

Other team members said they has no problems with Armstrong’s conversion.

“We’re not going to judge her by that,” said sophomore Rachel Sheats.

Armstrong said she did not think her clothing would distract other players or hamper her abilities on the court.

Religion and sports intersected elsewhere without clashing.

At Towson University in Maryland, star player Tamir Goodman, an Orthodox Jew, wore a yarmulke on the court and did not play on the Jewish Sabbath. At the Olympics in Greece, several female athletes wore head scarves.