Jewish and Pro- Can it work?
BY SHIRA FRAGER
When one thinks of a professional basketball star, balancing stardom with religious faith is not usually the first thing that comes to mind.
However, a recent controversy caused religion to come face-to-face with the potential for honorary success when FIBA, the organization that establishes the regulations for international competition forbade 21-year old Naama Shafir to wear extra clothing to preserve her modesty during a game in Europe. Shafir, who generally wears a T-shirt under her jersey, requested the same right in playing for Poland’s basketball tournament, which ran from June 18 through June 22, but was turned down. While FIBA claimed their reasoning was strictly due to the official European regulations, this seeming act of prejudice caused a stir among a majority of the Jewish population.
According to FIBA, European regulations require all players to dress exactly alike. They claimed this to reason why Shafir was not allowed to wear a T-shirt under her jersey at the game. But many people believed there to be a deeper, underlying reason behind FIBA not allowing Shafir, an Orthodox resident of Hoshaya, Israel to play in Poland’s tournament if she did not abide by the rules.
“I think it’s evident that there’s something discriminatory behind it. I can’t think of any valid reason why they shouldn’t allow her to wear the T-shirt,” said Josh Huttel, from New York.
California resident Michal Nozik agreed.
“I think that this shows that there is more acceptance of diversity in the U.S. and that Europe is more strict and less open to differences,” she said.
Shafir has excelled in basketball since she was a young girl, and is believed to be first female Orthodox Jew to earn the NCAA I scholarship, according to the University of Toledo’s website, utrockets.com. She had received national media exposure from several media outlets, including Sports Illustrated, New York Times, Associated Press, The Canadian Press and The Jerusalem Post to name just a few.
When she became a professional sports player, Shafir found a way to balance her love of basketball with her religious observance. While Shafir’s Rabbi does not permit Shafir to practice basketball on Shabbat, which runs from sundown on Friday until an hour after sundown on Saturday, he allows her to play in tournaments. When participating in games at the University of Toledo, Shafir left Friday afternoon before Shabbat and stayed in a hotel close by so she could walk to the games. She also packed Kosher food and postponed interviews with the media until after Shabbat. Shafir follows this routine for all games that fall on Saturdays. In addition, Shafir wears a T-shirt to cover her shoulders and shorts that cover her knees, all part of a strict set of regulations she adheres to as an Orthodox Jew.
Though Rabbi Chaim Borgansky, Shafir’s Rabbi in Hoshaya doubted there was any way Shafir would be able to play in the tournament, he believed FIBA unreasonable in rejecting Shafir’s request to play. “A sport needs to respect [and accommodate] a person,” said Borgansky.
But reporter David Pick from Eurobasket.com said it opens too many windows for future players who may also come with religious regulations. “If they permit Naama to play in a T-shirt, they must also permit Arabs to play with a head covering which would only reveal their eyes ,” he said. On the other hand, Pick recalled two well-known basketball players who wore T-shirts under their jerseys without anyone batting an eyelash.
“Scottie Reynolds of the University of Villanova and Kevin Durant of the University of Texas, both wore T-shirts with their jerseys during games. It was never a problem,” said Pick.
Shafir was permitted to play in the Poland tournament after FIBA agreed to allow her to wear short skin-toned elastic sleeves under her jersey. However, she was chosen only sparingly to play in the games. “Everyone should just chill out,” said New York resident Eliezer Sneiderman.
Shafir and her parents requested their privacy and declined to comment on the issue.