Fasting during football and Ramadan

Eid Ul-Fitr mealThe Baltimore Sun had a pretty solid article last week about the challenges Muslim athletes face during the month of Ramadan, where fasting during daylight hours is a priority. In reading this article, I wonder whether other local newspapers have covered the issue last month. My local newspaper hasn’t to my knowledge, but let me know if you are aware of other local stories that appeared in September.

The one thing the article emphasizes is that the water and food fast is just about mandatory. There are exceptions for sickness or travel, but the article also notes that there are options for young athletes who are about the keel over on the football field:

Neither said he has ever felt in real physical danger, such as suffering from serious dehydration or heat exhaustion. Both said under serious circumstances, it is permissible to break the fast. Toure said he never has, but Suleiman did on a warm, humid Friday two weeks ago.

“A pain started creeping up from my gut, and it crept up to my chest,” said Suleiman, 17. “I felt like when you’ve eaten a lot or you have to burp real badly, but it just kept building to the point where I was starting to heave when I was breathing … so I said some prayers for having to break it a little bit early. After that, I ate a PowerBar and had some Powerade. After a while, I felt better.”

Coaches and athletic trainers are especially vigilant with fasting athletes, watching for signs of trouble.

“When it’s real hot, because he can’t even technically drink water — he can rinse his mouth out and that’s about all – we watch what we have him doing,” Oakland Mills football coach Jim Riss said. “We’re looking for signs of heat exhaustion, like a cold, clammy sweat, upset stomach, all that stuff. We check with him regularly, and we try not to push him too hard.

There was another great example of Ramadan coming up in this article about an Ohio State University football player Nader Abdallah. Back in January, The Washington Post had a broader article on some of the unusual challenges female Muslim athletes face, which includes last month’s Ramadan fast.

The last thing to consider that this article could have addressed is whether there are parallels in other faith traditions. The first example that came to my mind is the Commandment regarding resting on the Sabbath and its portrayal in the great movie Chariots of Fire. For various reasons, this does not seem to be much of an issue these days, although I remember some news articles regarding Utah Mormons being concerned about attending Sunday Utah Jazz basketball games when they were in the NBA Finals back in the 1990s (losing consistently to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls). Are there others I am missing?

Image of the Eid Ul-Fitr meal, a Muslim holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, used under a Wikimedia Commons license.

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  • Mike Hickerson

    Thank you for this story. I remember similar coverage back in the 90′s about Hakeem Olajuwan’s Ramadan fast. Were there stories of this ilk when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar converted to Islam in the 70′s? He would have been the first high-profile Muslim team sport athlete in the US, I think. (As opposed to a solo athlete like Muhammad Ali, who could set his own schedule.)

    There was a Jewish basketball prospect several years ago – he was Orthodox, perhaps Hasidic, and heavily recruited by a number of colleges. The college that landed him attempted to reconfigure its schedule so that they would not have to play (and perhaps even travel) on the Sabbath.

    I also think a similar issue has come up when BYU’s basketball team has been scheduled to play on Sunday during the NCAA tournament. If I am remembering correctly, the NCAA tournament committee seeded them so that BYU would play on Saturday if they made it to the second round.

  • Brad A. Greenberg

    There were definitely stories in the ’90s about Olajuwan and about Muhammad Ali before that. It is a difficult predicament for Muslim American athletes. Unlike, say, Koufax, they can’t just sit out one game in a honoring their religion because the observance last a full month.

    Three years ago, I wrote about a varsity football player in LA County — a starting O-lineman, at that — who wasn’t eating or drinking anything from dawn ’til dusk, despite having to lift weights in the morning and practice for two hours in the afternoon. This was, like now, during the long hours of early fall.

    My story about Hytham Elsherif can be read here.

  • Harris

    With Dearborn nearby, the Detroit papers periodically pick up on this theme.