Controversy May be Prep Star's Toughest Foe



One of Oregon's former high school basketball stars is at the center of an
international uproar over her decision to wear traditional Muslim attire
when she takes the court for the University of South Florida.

Andrea Armstrong, a top high school player in 2000 who converted to Islam
earlier this year, wanted to wear a head scarf, long pants and a
long-sleeved shirt during practices, games and for the team photograph.

That sparked a backlash. For much of the past week, Armstrong was
ridiculed, according to a Muslim leader in Tampa, Fla. She was called an
enemy and a traitor, trailed by reporters, recognized at the grocery store
and even followed to her apartment by a man who apparently was angry with
her decision.

Finally on Wednesday, Armstrong abandoned one of her greatest joys: She
quit the basketball team...

Her conversion began last spring when, curious about Islam, she started
talking with Muslim students about their faith, said Ahmed Bedier, director
of the Tampa office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. She did
some research and ultimately decided to become a Muslim.

Armstrong began wearing a head scarf, long pants and long-sleeved shirts in
keeping with the religion's tradition. Bedier -- who has spoken extensively
with Armstrong and accompanied her to a recent meeting with school
officials -- said USF basketball coach Jose Fernandez saw her at a team
meeting and disapproved.

Fernandez later told her that she could wear Muslim attire, but not during
weight training sessions, practices or games, Bedier said. She agreed, he
said.

But when Armstrong returned to school in August, she apparently had changed
her mind. On Aug. 30, she wore traditional garb for the team photograph,
Bedier said.

Bedier called that day a "turning point" for Armstrong.

"She said, 'I want to wear this all the time,'" Bedier said in an interview
Saturday. "Basically, what she was trying to tell him was she did not want
to have this double life."

Fernandez refused and told her that she could not play, Bedier said.

He said Armstrong was forced to quit, though Fernandez told a reporter for
the USF campus paper last week that Armstrong chose to leave the team.
Fernandez could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Bedier said Armstrong, worried about losing her scholarship, sought help
from the Council on American-Islamic Relations. On Armstrong's behalf,
Bedier arranged a meeting with school officials...

Last week, the controversy was the topic of discussions on radio stations
in Florida and elsewhere, Bedier said. Bedier's group received hate mail.
Armstrong was treated differently at school, he said.

"The sentiment we got was that people are upset by the fact that she is
Muslim, not really about the actual attire," he said. "They don't even know
much about her as an individual."

Armstrong was stunned, he said. She worried that she was distracting the
team. So on Wednesday, she quit.

Bedier said Armstrong was brave to stand up for herself, he said

 


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