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Muslim wrestler at University of Buffalo granted waiver by NCAA to keep beard

Muhamed McBryde argued that beard was religiously mandated.

By Deepak Chitnis

WASHINGTON, DC: A Muslim student at the University of Buffalo has been granted permission to keep his beard and actively compete on the school’s wrestling team.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has strict guidelines when it comes to facial hair in several of its sports, including wrestling. NCAA regulations state that all wrestlers must be clean-shaven, which clashed with the religious beliefs of University of Buffalo team member Muhamed McBryde, who joined the team as a walk-on during the 2013-2014 winter season.

According to the Buffalo News, McBryde was raised as a devout Muslim his entire life. Home-schooled until the age of 14, McBryde spent two years at a local community college before going on to the University of Buffalo. An avid wrestler ever since his young days, McBryde wanted to continue this hobby in school, but was told by Buffalo Bulls coach John Stutzman that he couldn’t because of the NCAA.

McBryde and his father, Mustafa, urged the University of Buffalo to petition the NCAA for a waiver, saying that McBryde’s Islamic faith required maintaining a beard. The NCAA allows for beards and religious exemptions, but only for international competitions; domestic contests must feature clean-shaven athletes. For McBryde – a 157-pounder with so much skill and talent, his coach describes him as a “phenom” – the news was unfair.

What’s more, McBryde’s beard isn’t even all that long – in fact, it barely exists. The reasoning behind the NCAA rule is that facial hair can interfere with the wrestling, and can lead to painful pulling and tugging. That makes sense, but McBryde’s beard is still in a fairly nascent stage, and certainly poses no kind of threat to himself or an opponent.

McBryde, his father, coach, team eventually got the school to file the petition with the NCAA. This effort was supported by the Council for American Islamic Relations’ New York chapter (CAIR-NY). McBryde sat out for around 20 wrestling matches this past season, as he and his team waited for the NCAA to reply with their verdict.

Finally, last week, the NCAA ruled that McBryde could compete so long as he wears a face mask and chin strap to protect the beard. The community, the school, McBryde, and CAIR-NY lauded the waiver, with the latter calling it the first step towards convincing the NCAA to allow beards for competitors in all sports cross the country.

“We welcome this reasonable religious accommodation by the NCAA, which will enable Muslim athletes to participate in wrestling without violating their religious beliefs,” said CAIR Staff Attorney Gadeir Abbas, in a statement. Abbas was the attorney who specifically worked with McBryde to obtain the waiver.

McBryde, who kept focused on his studies throughout the whole experience, will now get to compete for the full wrestling season next year. With the kind of talent McBryde reportedly has, the NCAA waiver is great news for him and the Buffalo Bulls, but will probably turn out to be bad news for every team they end up facing.

[This story was updated on 5/10/14.]