USF player said issue was a distraction

Updated: September 15, 2004, 9:31 PM ET
Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. -- A University of South Florida women's basketball player who wanted to wear Islamic clothing on the court quit the team on Wednesday.

Last week, USF had asked the NCAA for an exemption to its uniform policy to allow Muslim convert Andrea Armstrong, 22, to wear long pants, a top with long sleeves and a scarf during games.

In a letter Wednesday to coach Jose Fernandez, Armstrong said she was leaving the team because she didn't want the uniform issue "to cause further distraction."

Armstrong first said last week that she had left the team and lost her athletic scholarship after Fernandez told her she could not wear religiously mandated clothing during practices or games.

In a meeting Friday with Armstrong, university officials and a representative of 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 NCAA on the scarf issue.

But Fernandez said Armstrong requested a meeting with him Wednesday and left the team.

"I offered her an opportunity to think further on her decision, and she assured me the decision is final," Fernandez said.

Armstrong, a senior forward from Lakeside, Ore., played one season with the Bulls after transferring from Kansas State University.

CAIR spokesman Ahmed Bedier said Armstrong had not been prepared for the onslaught of attention, including hate messages, that she received.

"She wanted to put her team first, after her faith, and she didn't want to be the center of the controversy," he said.

Religion and sports have intersected elsewhere. 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.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press