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Muslim wrestler at University at Buffalo granted NCAA waiver for facial hair

Logo for the Bulls wrestling program at the University at Buffalo
Logo for the Bulls wrestling program at the University at Buffalo
Logo courtesy of University at Buffalo, used with permission

The NCAA has granted a one-year waiver for a Muslim wrestler at the University at Buffalo to compete with a beard next season, according to the Buffalo News May 4.

Muhamed McBryde, a 157-pound wrestler for the Bulls, sat out much of the past season rather than shave his beard, an act which he said would compromise his faith. NCAA rules require that wrestlers have no beard growth when competing.

In late April, the NCAA Wrestling Rules Committee said McBryde could compete with a beard during the 2014-15 season, as long as he wears a face mask and chin strap to cover it. University at Buffalo can apply for an extension if McBryde, a 17-year-old junior, continues to wrestle beyond next season.

McBryde, who was home-schooled then earned a two-year degree at Erie Community College (New York), joined the Bulls wrestling team last summer as a walk-on. Last December, head coach John Stutzman informed McBryde he could no longer compete in tournaments because of the beard, but offered him the option of remaining with the team, which he did. Up to that point, McBryde had compiled a 7-5 record.

“My religion says you’re supposed to keep a beard,” the Buffalo wrestler, who has competed in open tournaments since age 6, told the Buffalo News.

McBryde and his father, Mustafa – a former wrestler himself -- asked the university to request a rules waiver from the NCAA which was granted last month.

“We were just looking for reasonable accommodations for a practicing Muslim,” said Mustafa McBryde. “A lot of Muslims, we just bend to these sorts of things, primarily because we’re not aware of our rights.”

NCAA Rule 1.13 requires that wrestlers have no beard growth when competing. It’s reportedly an issue of safety both for the bearded wrestler and his opponent. The NCAA may be concerned that a hirsute wrestler may try to scratch his opponent with his beard growth… and that clean-shaven opponents may try to distract or injure wrestlers by pulling on their beards.

NCAA rules on hair, protective gear

NCAA has rules governing hair, with a primary focus on beards. Nowadays, neatly-trimmed moustaches are acceptable by NCAA rules. Over the years, some wrestlers have worn caps under their headgear to contain their long hair; one example is Arizona State's Bubba Jenkins when he won the 157-pound title at the 2011 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships. Prior to the mid-1960s when college wrestlers at a number of schools competed without shirts, there were no stipulations governing chest or arm hair.

In college, facial hair is something that is checked at weigh-ins and noted in the records. For example, in the weigh-in report for the 285-pound/heavyweight class at the 2010 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships which the NCAA released to the media, one wrestler was told by officials he needed to shave again.

The NCAA rules governing facial hair have no bearing in freestyle or Greco-Roman competition within the U.S. and beyond. A number of current and past wrestlers from the U.S. and other nations wrestled with full beards, including 1984 Olympic gold medalist Dave Schultz and 1999 World freestyle champ Stephen Neal.

Muhamed McBryde would not be the first amateur wrestler to compete using a face mask or other protective gear. Steve “Dr. Death” Williams earned that nickname not in the pro wrestling ring or as a fearsome University of Oklahoma heavyweight, but as a young wrestler who wore a mask after being injured. Just over a dozen years ago, Jon Trenge, a two-time NCAA Division I finalist for Lehigh University, wore goggles while wrestling to protect his eyes, as he had detached retinas. Headgear – or earguards, as they are called in the NCAA rule book – has been required for college wrestlers for more than four decades.

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