As the likes of Donald Trump stoke hate, Muslim athletes hope for continued acceptance in US
For the most part, people are very respectful say stars – but they need more education
Detroit Lions running back Ameer Abdullah isn't worried about facing any hostility over his religious views.
“For the most part people are very respectful,” said Abdullah, who is Muslim. “I don't go outside hoping no one says anything to me about my religion, because that's not living a normal life. I just live a normal life, just going about my day.”
With Donald Trump calling for Muslims to be blocked from coming into the United States – and with fears of terrorism simmering throughout America following the Paris attacks and the shootings in San Bernardino, California – Abdullah and other Muslim athletes in the NBA and NFL expressed hope of continued acceptance. None of the players reported being taunted or confronted by fans because of religion.
Dennis Schroder of the Atlanta Hawks said he's had no problems in his home nation of Germany or in the US. Ryan Harris of the Denver Broncos said the controversy is a chance for Muslim athletes to speak out against violence and hate speech.
“We take every opportunity as Muslims to tell people that terrorists are distorting the faith that a billion of us practice peacefully every day,” Harris said. “Whatever Trump has planned or whatever he says, it's playing on a fear that's growing and is negative toward those everyday peaceful Muslims and citizens of the United States. That's why we've got to say something.”
Trump proposed preventing Muslims from entering the US “until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on.” After President Barack Obama gave a speech mentioning Muslim sports heroes, Trump tweeted: “What sport is he talking about, and who?”
“I read his tweet about the pro athletes. Come on, man. I think we have amazing athletes,” Kanter said. “Like Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon. Legends.”
Abdullah said the Trump comments were disappointing.
“When you have someone like him say some things – he has a very large following – it's kind of disappointing from my perspective,” Abdullah said. “I just encourage everyone to educate yourself before you take a stance on something that you may not really know about. It's a very foreign thing for this country. A majority of this country are Christians.”
Schroder says he hasn't noticed any hostility about his faith.
“I never hear nothing bad in Germany or here,” he said. “I think a lot of people know that ISIS is not the same as Muslim people and that's the reason I have no problems with fans or anybody.”
Harris condemned both violence from terrorists and the anti-Muslim backlash. He mentioned one recent incident in which a severed pig's head was left outside a mosque in Philadelphia.
“The overwhelming majority of Muslims condemn the acts of extremists who have taken parts of the religion and used them to justify heinous acts. At the same time we abhor the comments that play on the fear of others and in some instances have already caused some actions,” Harris said.
“It's important to speak out against that kind of hate speech now so that it doesn't escalate, and the positive thing is a lot of non-Muslims have been speaking out and speaking in unity with Muslims they know.”
In the aftermath of Paris and San Bernardino, Harris said both Muslims and non-Muslims have reasons to feel jittery.
“I fear for everyone. I think everyone fears for everyone's safety, not just Muslims' — and that's the effect that the terrorists want to have on us, they want us to be afraid to go to public places, they want us to be afraid to show unity and they want us to be afraid and start trying to divide and start pointing fingers at each other,” he said. “But every Muslim that I know abhors the violence and the terrorism that we're seeing, and it's so against Islam.”